Criminal Justice Bill could criminalise rough sleepers, charity claims

Homelessness charities have expressed concerns that the Government’s flagship Criminal Justice Bill could criminalise rough sleepers.

The Criminal Justice Bill will aim to give police more powers over tackling nuisance beggars and rough sleepers.

Critics of the bill, which includes a reported 40 Conservative MPs, however, say that the bill is not clear which could lead to rough sleepers being arrested just for having an excessive smell or intending to look homeless.

St Mungos Islington & Care Regional Head Ayesha ‘Ish’ Camp said: “There are fears that the police and public could be interpreted differently and that the language is a bit humiliating for our clients.

“Our clients are human beings with a story and I don’t think any of them choose to be on the street to be a nuisance to the local community.”

St Mungos along with other homelessness charities such as Crisis have stated that they are challenging the language with the aim to fully repeal the Vagrancy Act that turns 200 in June.

Camp stated that they would want the bill amended and that any forms of anti-social behaviour relating to homelessness be dealt with under anti-social behaviour laws rather than the Criminal Justice Bill.

She said: “The proposals focus on penalising people that are destitute and is not looking at the bigger picture of homelessness.”

Crisis Chief Executive Matt Downie said “It should never have been government policy to criminalise rough sleeping, so we would be thrilled to see the back of these deeply damaging proposals that will do nothing to support people away from the streets.

“Through our frontline services we see the brutality rough sleeping inflicts on people’s lives.

“With more and more people being pushed to the brink from the increased cost of living we need a compassionate approach, not one that threatens people with fines or imprisonment.”

He urged the Home Secretary James Cleverly to listen to his colleagues and drop these cruel and unnecessary measures whilst focusing on real solutions such as building more social houses.

The City of Westminster has had the highest number of rough sleepers with more than double the number of spotted reported rough sleepers than any other borough.

The Cities and Westminster MP Nickie Allen is among those that opposed the rough sleeping part of the bill.

She said “The last thing that we need to do is to criminalise rough sleepers.

“We need to understand what is causing homelessness and rough sleeping rather than criminalise rough sleepers in London.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are determined to end rough sleeping for good and we have a plan to tackle the root causes of why people end up on the streets, backed by an unprecedented £2.4 billion.

“We are not criminalising homelessness.

“We are introducing legislation supporting people away from the streets, and enabling police to effectively respond to disruptive and damaging behaviour.

“Any criminal penalty would be pursued as a last resort, and decided by a court.”

For more information about St Mungos’ work, visit

Featured Image Credit: Nick Fewings on Unsplash Licence.

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