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Homeless man without £1.50 implores Redbridge Council to waive £150 litter fine, given for throwing a previously discarded cigarette butt to the floor, after he retrieved the unused tobacco

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Hannah Chowdhry thumbs down the Redbridge penalty fine while homeless man makes amends by clearing streets of cigarette butts.

A homeless man who has been given a fine of £150 by Redbridge Council has become depressed and anxious fearing he will be put in prison for non-payment of his fine.

The 46 year old man is a qualified martial arts instructor and professional web designer but has found himself homeless and unable to work due to a series of unfortunate incidents and loss of identification documents.

He was helped into a housing programme by a charity based in Newham who connected him with Newham Council.  The Council relocated him to Ilford during the COVID-19 lockdown, during which time he began visiting British Asian Christian Association's food bank and 'Meals for the Homeless' project. The home is only temporary and will be in place for the period of the ongoing pandemic lockdown.

The beneficiary who has chosen not to divulge his name, said:

"I have not been able to sleep or eat since receiving the ticket.

"I am worried because I have no money to pay the fine - I do  not even have £1.50 to pay for food so £150 is way beyond me.

"I am afraid I will go to prison, I do not know the laws of this country and it has me very frightened."

Speaking with BACA's volunteer Hannah Chowdhry, he explained that in his native country of Slovenia the streets are very clean. But on arriving to the UK around 1.5 years ago it was evident to him, that citizens in the UK threw their cigarette butts across the streets. On 6th September while in Ilford Town Centre however, an enforcement officer penalised him with a fine of £150 after he dropped a cigarette butt on the floor. He had picked the butt off the floor moments earlier to retrieve unused tobacco.  The beneficiary, said:

"I thought it was ok to dispose of cigarette butts on the floor in the UK.

"So many people do it, it seemed to me that this was an acceptable practice.

"I was surprised when the enforcement officer stopped me.

"It was not even my cigarette.

"I had picked the butt off the floor and had taken the unused tobacco, I do this as I have no money for cigarettes.

"Usually, I then put the butts in a nearby bin but on this occasion I did not.

"I am sorry for my mistake and am willing to help Redbridge clean the streets to pay for this mistake.

"Please take this financial burden away from me Redbridge Council - it has left me in despair."

The beneficiary is frightened about what will happen next to him.  He is willing to work for free for the council clearing litter if it can gain him a waiver for the fine imposed on him.  He does not have any income except for small donations from the Newham-based charity.  He is being helped to gain new identification documents to replace ones that he has lost, so he can apply for benefits and work. He is also visiting BACA's Clementswood Community Centre to build a CV and apply for jobs, but with minimal ID it will be some time till he can secure decent employment.  the beneficiary has been a helper to BACA in food distribution and often cleans the alleyway next to our community centre of his own volition, with other homeless people.  It has been one way the grateful homeless offer a service back to us - though it is not something we request.  This must save the council hundreds if not thousands of pounds and can be verified by the local pub landlord and mosque leader.  

Hannah Chowdhry, BACA community centre volunteer, said:

"This fine is ridiculous.

"If our beneficiary did not care for himself or was drinking heavily, he would have been ignored by town centre enforcement.

"Unfortunately in this case the beneficiary has no addiction problems and is seeking to restore his life to the way it was and he is not easy to identify as homeless.

"Despite being advised of his homeless status the enforcement officer proceeded with the fine and now the beneficiary is traumatised, which could undo a lot of social-rebuilding work by a number of charities.

"Moreover, the cost of criminalising a homeless man for non-payment of a fine the borough will never be able to secure, seems a ludicrous waste of money and effort - it would be better to accept his offer of community service.

"I hope Redbridge does the sensible thing and quashes this unnecessary fine, in lieu of good behaviour and mitigating financial circumstances."

Hannah Chowdhry, has submitted an appeal to Redbridge Licensing and the enforcement contractor responsible for collecting the fines.  So far no response has been provided. She added:

"We continue to advise our homeless visitors that they should stop the practice of sniping, which risks the spread of infection."

The process of 'sniping' which is the collection of discarded cigarettes to create new ones using Rizla papers, is well known within the homeless community. Some homeless people even go as far smoking cast-offs, if the stubs are large enough and with a good amount of tobacco.  This dangerous practice can spread diseases and infections and under the current COVID-19 pandemic is a worrying concern.

You can donate towards our Community Centre and 'Meals for the Homeless' project (here)

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