A LEADING human rights group has described Southend Council as “cruel” and “Dickensian” in its planned approach to the homeless.

Southend Council’s Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) is aimed at helping to address anti-social behaviour on High Street and bring an end to aggressive begging.

But human rights groups have been critical of broad measures that are aimed at the homeless, such as banning people from “sleeping in a public place in a manner that has a detrimental impact on the quality of life of others in the locality”.

They have also raised concerns about bans on pitching tents and begging.

Lara ten Caten, a lawyer working for the rights group Liberty, said: “If you become homeless, councils like Southend will target you with fines you can’t possibly pay.

“In the run up to the festive season and as temperatures begin to drop, councils should be doing everything they can to extend supportive services.

“Instead, some are misusing these blunt powers to criminalise poverty. For Southend to choose to enforce this PSPO now is nothing short of cruel, more fitting of a Charles Dickens’ novel.

“The council should scrap the order.”

It is the latest attack on the council by Liberty after the group’s solicitor Rosie Brighouse wrote a six-page letter in March to warn that proceeding with the policy would be “unlawful and unreasonable”.

The PSPO will be enforced with £100 fines that can be handed out by police officers and the council’s community safety team within a “restricted zone”.

It will include the town centre and seafront, as well as Southchurch Hall Gardens, Hamlet Court Road and York Road.

Labour Councillor Matt Dent hit back at criticisms, claiming that Liberty had “ignored the wider context”.

He said: “The idea of saying Southend, which has an exemplary record in supporting rough sleepers, is persecuting the homeless is wrong-headed and it is premature to raise the concern.

“It is targeted at anti-social behaviour and that is why we wanted it.”

Simon Ford, the head of community safety at Southend Council, said: “The PSPO is being introduced as a measure to tackle those who persistently refuse support and are undertaking aggressive begging.”