Wigan Council hands out scores of notices to residents for waste and untidy gardens
The Manifesto Club discovered the town hall dished out 161 community protection notices (CPNs) between November 2018 and October 2019.
The town hall said these were given out for infractions such as having messy gardens and accumulating waste.
The local authority said CPNs were a particularly useful way of addressing problems with environmental cases of anti-social behaviour but stressed it viewed them as a last resort.
But the report’s authors say they are concerned about local authorities using so-called “busybody” powers in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and are alarmed by the fact the use of them seems to be getting more common.
CPNs allow town halls to impose legal restrictions on individuals for behaviour which has a detrimental effect.
A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “Community Protection Notices are a useful tool available to assist in tackling issues of anti-social behaviour, however anti-social behaviour takes many forms and such notices lend themselves particularly well to addressing environmental issues of anti-social behaviour.
“Wigan has adopted a stepped approach through its ‘ASB Resolution Model’ for tackling person centred anti-social behaviour issues where we seek to resolve the root cause of anti-social behaviour through the most appropriate means, only utilising enforcement where all other attempts to address the issue have been unsuccessful.”
The Manifesto Club said untidy or messy gardens was the most common reason for councils dishing out CPNs.
However, the report authors said they had concerns that in some cases town hall officials had too much leeway to decide what in their opinions constituted an eyesore garden.
They cited examples elsewhere in the country of people having a woodland-style garden or leaving grass long for wildlife had been sanctioned.
CPN use has increased by the biggest margin compared to the previous year since the powers were given to councils and the numbers being handed out have reached an all-time high.
The Manifesto Club also looked at Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs), which allow for councils to ban activities said to detrimentally affect quality of life in an area, and how fixed penalty notices are being used for violations of them.
The report says Wigan Council issued no FPNs in the most recent 12-month period being scrutinised, but the town hall said it does have two PSPOs, covering Wigan and Leigh town centres.
The local authority is currently consulting on the best way to deal with breaches of the PSPOs, with the deadline for comments being October 1.
However, it did say issuing penalty notices was not a route it wanted to go down.
The spokesperson said: “The issuing of fixed penalty notices to enforce PSPOs is a very contentious aspect, and not a preferred route to enforce PSPOs, especially if such aspect relates to begging, where it can be argued to be punitive on some of the most vulnerable in society.”
The Manifesto Club has been campaigning against over-use of the powers in the 2014 Act for six years.
It says the test of behaviour causing a “detrimental effect” is too low for legal powers to be used, councils do not have to build up enough evidence of the harm caused before acting and it is difficult for those who are sanctioned to appeal.