Quarter of fines for breaching ‘petty’ council orders issues in Peterborough
A quarter of all financial penalties handed out in 2018 for breaching ‘petty’ council orders were issued in Peterborough.
Councils in England and Wales issued nearly 10,000 financial penalties for breaching Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) in 2018 - a large jump on 1,906 in 2016 and just 470 in 2015.
Of those 2,430 fines were issued in Peterborough including 1,533 for unauthorised cycling, 861 for spitting and 13 for failure to disperse.
The city council uses private enforcement agency Kingdom Services Group to enforce two current PSPOs - one in the city centre and another in an area covering Millfield, New England, Gladstone, Eastfield, Lower Bridge Street and the Embankment.
Kingdom is used by several councils, leading to concerns about wardens “acting with incentives to issue as many fines as possible”.
In Peterborough Kingdom take a cut of £45 for every £80 fine its officers hand out, with the city council keeping £35.
A Peterborough City Council spokesperson said: “The data does not compare like for like. The reason Peterborough has more fines is because the PSPO areas cover a larger number of offences, including cycling, littering and spitting.
“In addition, the locations covered by the PSPOs cover a larger geographical area than many other local authorities.”
The figures were released to civil liberties group Manifesto Club through Freedom of Information requests.
An undercover BBC Panorama investigation in 2017 found officers from Kingdom had been paid a bonus for issuing fines, with one warden claiming to have made nearly £1,000 in a month.
Some wardens even pretended to call the police to pressure people into paying, while citizens were fined for acts like dropping orange peel or pouring coffee down the drain, Panorama found.
Rosie Brighouse, a lawyer for human rights charity Liberty, told the Press Association: “There’s potentially a whole level of really unaccountable power being exercised here by these officers who, in some cases, we know have been acting with incentives to issue as many fines as possible.
“There just seems to be very little scrutiny or accountability to how those powers are being used to rake in enormous amounts of money.”
Kingdom, which has been contacted for comment, has told the BBC its “competency allowance” was not a paid incentive for officers to issue fines.
Data obtained by the Manifesto Club reveals what councils issued fines for in 2018:
. Colchester council in Essex fined four people for putting up an A-frame
. Caerphilly council in south Wales fined one person for loitering at the bus station
. Canterbury council in the south east fined six people for swearing or shouting in public
. Neath Port Talbot council in Wales fined 134 people for taking their dogs on to Aberavon beach
. Three Rivers council, in Hertfordshire, issued 20 fines for school drop-offs
. Several councils including Derby, Newcastle, Poole and Barking and Dagenham issued fines for begging.
Ms Brighouse added that while people with the means often pay the fines to avoid the hassle of court and a potential fine of up to £1,000, poorer people have no ability to challenge them.
Liberty has launched a legal challenge to the Legal Aid Agency over the lack of public funding available to challenge PSPOs.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tim Clement-Jones said: “The shocking rise in petty PSPOs and fines means that thousands of people are being punished for entirely innocuous actions.”
Kingdom says on its website it has made councils more than £3.3 million over the past 12 months.
It says: “We operate a range of payment schemes all guaranteeing no cost to the local authority.
“Kingdom’s costs are recovered by the Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) we issue and, with our 75 per cent payment rate, has resulted in us raising over £3.3 million for local authorities during the last 12 months.
“Kingdom officers undertake a comprehensive training programme and operate under some of the tightest legal guidelines.”