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Why the Criminal Justice Bill presents as much danger to people sleeping rough as taking away tents

Jasmine Basran, Head of Policy and Campaigns

The UK Government’s new Criminal Justice Bill contains proposals that would criminalise rough sleeping.

In the run-up to the Kings Speech, we headed off plans by the then Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to crackdown on the use of tents by people sleeping rough. This would have posed a real danger to people forced to sleep on the streets.

But now, a new UK Government Bill seeks to criminalise people sleeping rough. This presents just as big a danger to people bedding down on the streets.

Is homelessness about to be criminalised?

Under the Vagrancy Act of 1824, people sleeping rough in England and Wales could be moved on or fined up to £1,000. Following a decades-long campaign, led by Crisis and supported by politicians across the political spectrum, people with lived experience and a wide number of charities, Parliament voted to repeal this archaic Act in February 2022.

But the repeal has not yet been ‘enacted’, meaning the Vagrancy Act is technically still in force.

Now the UK Government is introducing replacement legislation, via the Criminal Justice Bill, that replicates much of the Act's most problematic elements; criminalising people for sleeping rough.

The Bill is being debated in Parliament right now. Together, we can stop these plans – but we need MPs to speak out against it.

Tell your MP: none of us should be criminalised for being homeless

Email your MP


What new laws on homelessness will the Criminal Justice Bill introduce?

The Bill contains broad new powers for police and local authorities to enforce against so-called ‘nuisance rough sleeping’. These powers include being moved on, imprisonment and a fine up of up £2,500, much like the Vagrancy Act.

And the wide definition of ‘nuisance’ should alarm us all.

The Bill states that someone can fall under this definition if they have slept rough, 'appear to have slept rough' or are 'intending to sleep rough', and are ‘are likely’ to cause a nuisance.

This means that someone doesn’t need to have even slept rough or have done anything a reasonable person would consider a ‘nuisance’ to fall foul of the legislation. This is extremely worrying when we know people sleeping rough are already often stigmatised.

This leaves the door open for anyone sleeping rough (or apparently ‘intending to’) to be criminalised based on a judgement from an individual about how they look or act. This is unacceptable. These proposals punish people simply for being homeless.

The definition of ‘nuisance’ goes way too far

The Bill also defines sleeping in doorways as nuisance behaviour as it could be ‘obstructive’.

But we know that people sleeping rough, and in particular women, often sleep in doorways or forms of limited shelters to seek some small amount of safety.

People sleeping rough are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and abuse. This Bill could criminalise people simply for trying to keep themselves safe.

There are also other definitions of ‘nuisance’ behaviour in the Bill that are simply dehumanising, such as deeming someone sleeping rough a nuisance due to ‘excessive smell’.

People who had faced police action under the Vagrancy Act told us how dehumanising it was to be moved on and fined, instead of helped, when they had nowhere else to go.

During the Scrap the Act campaign, we showed that an approach that uses criminalisation as a first response only succeeds in breaking down trust between people sleeping rough and services like the police, pushing people further from support into destitution and exploitation.

We must stand against these attempts to replicate the worst effects of these divisive laws.

What can we do about this?

These issues did not go unnoticed at the Second Reading of the Bill in Parliament.

MPs from all parties spoke out against these new laws, questioning why they are similar and, in many respects, worse than the Vagrancy Act, and calling for the enforcement of ‘nuisance’ rough sleeping to be dropped.

They also highlighted the solutions we want in place of these laws, like investing in specialist support services and programmes like Housing First, which are proven to help people permanently off the streets and build a life away from homelessness.

We’ll be working with politicians and campaign partners to remove these elements as the Bill passes through Parliament, and we need your help.

We've already handed in a petition, signed by more than 10,000 people. Now we need to take the campaign directly to MPs and call on them to stand against the criminalisation of homelessness.

Together, we can also ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and homelessness is not criminalised.

Tell your MP: none of us should be criminalised for being homeless

Email your MP


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