Local authorities and police increasingly use enforcement measures in England and Wales to address rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour such as begging and street drinking. We are concerned by any measure that could make life more difficult for rough sleepers and put them at greater risk of harm.
Types of enforcement
Formal enforcement measures taken by the police, local authorities and other agencies can result in someone receiving a warning, a fine or being arrested. Public Space Protection Orders also affect homeless people. In some areas, councils specify it is illegal to bed down in certain areas and therefore criminalise rough sleeping.
Less formal methods might include interventions which do not incur legal penalties or sanctions. This includes actions to deter rough sleeping such as designing public spaces to be more hostile or local policies of moving rough sleepers on by the police or other enforcement agencies. It might also include diverted giving schemes which people can donate to instead of giving money directly to someone begging.
We think that formal enforcement measures can work to help address anti-social behaviour in relation to rough sleeping but only as a last resort. These measures should only be used when all other options to help someone who is rough sleeping have failed.
In some areas of England and Wales enforcement measures are used without access to wider help. In our research we found that eight in ten rough sleepers' most recent experience of enforcement did not result in advice or support being administered.
We believe that any contact with someone rough sleeping is an opportunity to help them off the streets. The police, local authorities and homelessness services should work together to provide rough sleepers with advice, accommodation and referrals to other services. If formal enforcement measures are used they must always include accommodation and social care support.
We are calling on local authorities and the police to only use their powers in the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act as a last resort. We think that the government should implement a cross departmental national rough sleeping strategy which instead develops a coordinated approach to reducing and ultimately achieving the goal of ending rough sleeping.
We’ve published research that clearly shows the impact of enforcement measures on rough sleeping and when it is appropriate to use it. See An examination of the scale and impact of enforcement interventions on street homeless people in England and Wales.
See also: our work on rough sleepers and complex needs.