PLANS to fine homeless people begging in the town centre are “cruel and counterproductive”, according to a leading civil liberties group.

Southend Council has published a draft public spaces protection order (PSPO) which could ban begging and prohibit people from sleeping in a public space “in a manner which has a detrimental impact on the quality of life of others”.

It could also ban people from erecting tents, using drugs, spitting, littering, urinating and defecating in the street.

Restrictions would also be placed on drinking in the street.

Lara ten Caten, lawyer for Liberty, said: “The council’s proposed bans on rough sleeping and begging will punish some of the town’s most vulnerable people.

“The draft PSPO also completely ignores Home Office guidance, wrongly equates poverty with anti-social behaviour and will make it near-impossible for any homeless person to avoid breaking the law.

“The council should be focusing on alleviating hardship, not slapping people with fines they cannot possibly afford, pushing them into the criminal justice system and a downward spiral of debt.

“The people of Southend deserve better – this cruel and counterproductive plan must be dropped immediately.”

The proposal is due to be discussed by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday.

If approved the order would be placed on certain areas, yet to be determined, and if breached could result in a £100 fine which would have to be paid within 14 days to avoid prosecution and a larger fine of £1,000.

Councillor Mark Flewitt defended the proposal.

He said: “We are not saying we are going to have a public space protection order, we’re saying here is a tool and we need to have a consultation and ask various stakeholders, such as the police and the residents who live in that area, what they think.

“If they all say yes to it then I’ve no doubt we will consider having this in place.

“Opposing views are welcome and I completely understand Liberty’s position on this but they must also understand where elected members are coming from and how residents feel about this.”

The order could provide more powers to Southend’s community safety team which was set up to tackle rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour on the High Street, in the town centre and around the borough.

As well as the PSPO the council is working on a housing and homelessness strategy to provide more properties.

And Southend Council has launched the Make a Change campaign to help people “live a life off the street”.

The campaign is a partnership between the council, Essex Police and homelessness charities.

One of the key parts is to get people to stop giving money to beggars but donate the money direct to homelessness charities to make sure the money is used to help rather than exacerbate problems.

Councillor Tony Cox said: “It’s often hard to walk past a person on the street without doing something. Giving change only provides immediate relief and can enable and even encourage life on the streets.”