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Rough sleepers being targeted by legal powers designed for antisocial behaviour

Councils across England and Wales are targeting rough sleepers with antisocial behaviour measures such as PSPOs and Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs), according to new research from Crisis, the national homelessness charity.

The charity warns that while enforcement can help people move away from the street if used for genuinely antisocial behaviour, it should never be used for rough sleeping by itself and must be accompanied by meaningful support and accommodation. Without that, it makes it even harder for rough sleepers to get help.

Drawing on a survey of local councils, the report shows how more than one in three (36%) are targeting rough sleepers with enforcement measures. Of these councils, common measures included Criminal Behaviour Orders (45 per cent), Dispersal Orders (35 per cent), Public Space Protection Orders (17 per cent) and actions under the Vagrancy Act (27 per cent). [see notes]

An accompanying survey of 458 recent or current rough sleepers found that nearly three in four (73 per cent) had experienced some kind of enforcement in the past year, with one in ten having experienced a formal measure with legal penalties. Experiences of informal measures not involving legal penalties were far more common – with the most frequent experience having been informally moved on by a police officer or enforcement agent (56 per cent within the last 12 months).

While 94 per cent of local councils said that support and advice were always given alongside enforcement actions, this generally referred only to legal actions. By contrast, eight out of ten rough sleepers (81 per cent) said they received no support or advice during their last experience of enforcement, suggesting that informal actions are often poorly supported. More than half (56 per cent) said the experience added to their feeling of shame at being homeless; and nearly a third (30 per cent) said it made it harder to find settled accommodation.

In light of the findings, Crisis is calling on local councils to make sure that legal measures are used only as a last resort for genuinely antisocial behaviour and that any rough sleepers affected are offered personalised and accessible support to escape the streets. The charity also calls on the government to re-issue its statutory guidance on the use of antisocial behaviour powers to prevent them from being used to target rough sleeping, and recommends that police and local agencies are trained to advise rough sleepers on local services. 

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “We understand that councils and the police have to strike a balance between the concerns of local residents and the needs of rough sleepers, and where there’s genuine antisocial activity, it’s only right that they should intervene. Yet people shouldn’t be targeted simply for sleeping on the street. In fact, homeless people are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, and rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general public. They deserve better than to be treated as criminals simply because they have nowhere to live. 

“There is a time and place for enforcement, and as a last resort it can play an important role in helping people off the street. However, if it is used against a rough sleeper for genuinely antisocial behaviour then councils and police must make sure it is accompanied by accessible, meaningful support and accommodation to help that person escape the streets and rebuild their life. Without that support, they risk further marginalising rough sleepers and making it even harder for them to get help.”

Additional findings: 

  • Almost 7 out of 10 local councils use some form of enforcement to tackle antisocial behaviour.

  • Local councils want to make increased use of new powers under the Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Over half (52 per cent) intend to roll out new PSPOs, one in five (21 per cent) intend to use CPNs (Community Protection Notices), and a fifth (18 per cent) intend to make use of hostile architecture. 

  • 10 per cent of rough sleepers had encountered a formal enforcement measure in the last 12 months, compared to 70 per cent who had experienced an informal measure. 

  • 94 per cent of local councils said that support and advice were always given alongside enforcement actions, but this generally referred only to legal actions. This was also reflected in a Freedom of Information request in which 21 local council reported that 374 referrals had been made to support or counselling services

  • 81 per cent of recent rough sleepers received no support in relation to the last enforcement measure they experienced despite requests for support in some cases. While the numbers of rough sleepers receiving support was limited, the take up of support was quite high when it was offered, the two most common options being help accessing emergency accommodation or signposting to other organisations. 

  • While local authorities reported seeing a drop in anti-social behaviour in areas where they had measures in place, over a quarter (28%) also reported it rising in places where there was no enforcement.

  • A third of rough sleepers (34%) said that enforcement had just made them move elsewhere to sleep.



Notes to editors:  

For more information, call 020 7426 3853 or email For out-of-hours media enquiries please call: 07973 372587 
READ THE FULL REPORT: An examination of the scale and impact of enforcement interventions on street homeless people in England and Wales (2017) 

Crisis Research:

  1. Over the summer of 2016, 458 people who were either currently sleeping rough or had been in the last 12 months completed a face-to-face survey. 385 were men and 72 were women. Surveys were completed across 21 localities in England and Wales at a variety of homelessness services and organisations. The sample surveyed closely represented the demographic nature of the wider rough sleeping population.

  2. An online survey was sent to all local authorities in England and Wales. The survey ran for a period of 5 weeks over the summer of 2016 and explored what enforcement measures local authorities currently had in place and planned to use. It also explored particular motivations for use and the impact they had. 81 local authorities completed full responses, representing a response rate of 22 per cent.

  3. On Crisis’ behalf the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies issued a freedom of information request to all district, local authority and city councils in England and Wales (327 in England; 22 in Wales) and to 34 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales (excluding forces that had indicated they could not respond). The purpose of the FOI was to quantify the use of interventions following measures contained in the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 against the act of rough sleeping itself. To ensure consistency and comparability, all agencies were requested to provide data from the Act’s implementation in October 2014 through to June 2016. Data on arrests, prosecutions and convictions for rough sleeping under the Vagrancy Act 1824 were also requested from all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

  4. Formal measures involve legal penalties such as arrests, fines or imprisonment (e.g. CBOs, PSPOs, CPNs, Dispersal Orders, IPNAs, and Arrests under the Vagrancy Act 1824). Other means of addressing the issues are informal actions such as the use of defensive architecture to ‘design out’ street homelessness, the use of street cleansing or ‘wetting down’ areas occupied by rough sleepers, or asking them to ‘move on’, do not involve legal penalties.


How it can be used to tackle rough sleeping and associated activity


Legal penalty/sanction

The Vagrancy Act 1924

Section 4 prohibits ‘wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or wagon, and not giving a good account of himself’



People can be arrested if there is a shelter nearby that can be accessed or if they have been offered a shelter and still sleep on the street.



Section 3 Begging and persistent begging are prohibited through the Act: ‘Every person wandering abroad, or placing himself or herself in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms’;



Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

Dispersal powers – a new power that can be exercised by a police officer (or designated PCSO) that allows dispersal of individuals or groups causing or likely to cause anti-social behaviour in public places or common areas of private land (e.g. shopping centres or parks).


Fine/imprisonment for 3 months

Civil injunction – a new civil injunction to prevent people from repetitively engaging in low level anti-social behaviour, these are known as an Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA). They can be used to tackle ASB in both housing and non-housing contexts including aggressive begging.



Criminal Behaviour Order – this is a direct replacement of both the ASBO and the CRASBO and are designed to tackle the most serious and persistent ASB. Similar to a IPNA a CBO can have positive requirements attached to it as well as prohibitive measures. The CBO can be issued in any criminal court on the conviction of a criminal offence.


Imprisonment for period not exceeding 6 months and/or fine

Community Protection Notice – this is designed to provide a means of dealing with ongoing problems in the local area which are having a detrimental effect on the community. Examples include litter, noise or graffiti.


Fine/remedial orders

Community remedies – a list of actions which might be appropriate to be carried out by a person who has engaged in anti-social behaviour or has committed an offence and is to be dealt with without court proceedings. The document will be prepared by the local policing body and can be revised at any time


If broken can be used as evidence for stronger action to be taken

Public Space Protection Order – a new power which allows councils to place restrictions or impose conditions on activities which people carry out in a designated area. They are designed in consultation with the police and apply to public areas to deal with issues identified as having a detrimental impact on the quality of life in the community.


Fixed penalty notice/fine

Other measures

Designing out via defensive architecture: Street furniture and environment designed so to stop and deter the bedding down of rough sleepers



‘Wetting down’: Spraying and hosing down doorways/alleyways with water or cleaning products to stop rough sleeper’s using the space.



Noise pollution: Sounds that are deliberately projected via speakers to deter rough sleepers



Moved-on by police/enforcement agent: Being told to move-relocate somewhere else because they cannot remain in current area


Threat of arrest/further action

Diverted giving schemes: Local authority sanctioned schemes that promote and advertise in begging hotspots asking member of the public to reconsider giving money to beggars and give to local charities instead.