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Scale and impact of enforcement on people experiencing homelessness

The research aimed to examine how enforcement was being used specifically to address street homelessness. Whilst the research looked at behaviour that was associated with rough sleeping, such as begging and street drinking, this was not the primary focus of the analysis. In doing, so the report has analysed the extent to which enforcement measures impact on homeless people, local authorities, and other statutory and non-statutory services and how they interact with strategies to address wider antisocial behaviour.

Key findings

  • There has been an increase in the levels of rough sleeping alongside reported rises in anti-social behaviour such as begging and street drinking. Local authorities and other enforcement agents are responding to these changes in large part because of complaints they receive from the members of the public and local businesses but also to address concerns for the wellbeing of those engaged in rough sleeping and anti-social street activities.
  • Some of these responses take the form of enforcement, both formal measures involving legal penalties such as arrests, fines or imprisonment (e.g. Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBO), Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO), Community Protection Notice (CPN), Dispersal Orders, Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA), 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.
  • Despite more formal measures being employed by local authorities, in practice rough sleepers experience these infrequently and informal measures far more. Only 10 per cent of rough sleepers surveyed had encountered a formal measure in the last 12 months compared to 70 per cent who had experienced an informal measure. By far the most common informal action rough sleepers experienced was being moved on by the police and/or enforcement agent. Defensive architecture was the next most recently experienced informal measure.
  • The greater use of informal enforcement measures rather than measures contained in the 2014 Act or the Vagrancy Act means that whilst 94 per cent of local authorities said that support and advice was always given alongside enforcement actions this generally referred to when formal measures were used as support is more readily integrated with formal actions. This was also reflected in the FOIs return in which 21 local authorities reported that 374 referrals had been made to support or counselling services.
  • In contrast, 81 per cent (277) of rough sleepers’ most recent experience of enforcement no support or advice was administered. Where support was offered (17%/58 of rough sleepers) those in London were more likely to receive it than elsewhere. 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.
  • Rough sleepers’ interactions with police officers, security guards and enforcement agents was also mixed. This could vary from positive engagement and sign-posting people to homelessness agencies to more hostile encounters which left rough sleepers feeling criminalised and intimidated.


Sander, B. & Albanese, F. (2017) An examination of the scale and impact of enforcement interventions on street homeless people in England and Wales. London: Crisis.