Outdated Vagrancy Act scrapped by Government

Posted on: 23 Feb 22

The Vagrancy Act is a piece of legislation which is almost 200 years old. The Act makes it a criminal offence to be homeless, rough sleep, or beg. On Tuesday, 22 February 2022, it was finally scrapped by the Government.  

The 1824 Act has long been considered outdated, many argue that it fails to address the issues and challenges relating to homelessness and rough sleeping in the 21st century. It was initially created to stop ex-soldiers from begging following the Napoleonic Wars, and to punish those from Traveller communities who were lodging in tents and wagons.

These laws still applied until now and have been used to arrest and fine individuals who are sleeping rough. Most homelessness organisations agree that the use of police powers should be a last resort when dealing with rough sleepers, only for when there is criminal behaviour involved. The use of the Act has been slowly declining over recent years, but when used it is dehumanising and criminalises those in situations outside of their own control.

Helen Litherland, Executive Director of Housing, Care and Support at Trident Group said:

“It is time to repeal such antiquated legislation that criminalises rough sleeping and can leave those convicted with a two-year criminal record and the risk of a fine of £1,000. The Act does nothing to help resolve and tackle causes of homelessness; and we know through our experience of supporting homeless people sleeping rough that a compassionate, trauma-informed approach is far more likely to help someone access support, move away from the street and into accommodation. We work in partnership with the Police and other agencies to ensure that people identified to be sleeping rough have a pathway from the street into services and accommodation.”

A proposal to scrap the Act was originally part of a vote to amend the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill. Read the amendments on pages 17 and 18 here. With this amendment, there is hope that decriminalising rough sleeping will aid the move to a more holistic approach to homelessness which is needed.

If you see someone who you think may be sleeping rough, make a referral to StreetLink. The referral will be sent to Trident Reach’s Rough Sleeper Outreach Team, who will try and find the rough sleeper and provide them with shelter and support. The team will make more than one attempt to reach them, and you will be kept updated via StreetLink.

To speak to a member of Trident Reach’s Homeless Services team, call 0121 226 5832 or click HERE.

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