Assertive Outreach and Enforcement

Local areas are increasingly taking a more assertive approach in their outreach work with rough sleepers. Often this involves working with enforcement agencies. When agencies work well in partnership and balance support with assertive measures it can be effective.

Assertive outreach involves regular contact with rough sleepers. Often this means giving a clear message that sleeping rough is not acceptable and setting out the clear range of options available to rough sleepers. It is underpinned by the belief that rough sleeping is inherently harmful to the person sleeping rough, and is likely to be an indicator of wider issues around need or a lack of entitlement.

In this context, “enforcement” is action to prevent people from rough sleeping through either using civil or legal powers, or moving people on. In essence, this is about ‘making rough sleeping uncomfortable’, decreasing the desirability of sleeping on the street, or actively making it more difficult to sleep in certain areas, as well as addressing associated street issues. Simultaneously, this is often designed to reinforce and encourage take-up of the offers of support available. 

For a summary of the civil and legal powers that can be used click here.

Policy and practice around enforcement can be controversial. It leads to questions of whether people have the right to sleep on the street if they choose to and are not harming others; whether sleeping rough is a legitimate choice; and whether there are real alternatives for everyone in every area. However, assertive outreach and enforcement measures, used proportionately and lawfully, can be effective if provided alongside a personalised, appropriate and multi-agency pathway of support.

In taking enforcement action, it is important that the following is taken account of:

  • There is a wider issue of illegal or anti-social street activity unrelated to rough sleepers. When these acts are perpetrated by rough sleepers, then it is appropriate for criminal justice/enforcement activity to be delivered as with any other individual.
  • Any enforcement action will only be effective if it is part of a pathway of support so that a person will not have to return to the street.  All enforcement must be delivered alongside appropriate support. 
  • Any enforcement action will only be fair and equitable if a person has a reasonable choice not to sleep rough. There needs to be appropriate provision locally for this to happen.
  • Enforcement must be evidenced-based; it must be demonstrable that enforcement leads to the uptake of alternatives to rough sleeping, including support services and reconnection
  • Enforcement must be proportionate – not levied on particular groups, or areas without clear justification.
  • Enforcement activity is used both to address illegal or anti-social behaviour and to encourage people to move away from rough sleeping – although the two are often interchangeable.


  • Be clear about the intention of enforcement activity; think about what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. There need to be suitable options to give people if enforcement is to be considered. Forcing someone into unsuitable accommodation is likely to be a negative process and reaffirms some clients’ negative views of the police, outreach or the hostel system.
  • Consider the unintended consequences of enforcement measures – e.g. moving people into neighbouring areas; away from sources of support, into more hidden patterns of rough sleeping; or undermining the prospect of future engagement in services by rough sleepers, leading to greater entrenchment .
  • Use your local intelligence – work with the police, local homelessness organisations, and wider community safety.
  • Include assertive outreach and enforcement as part of a comprehensive homelessness strategy – make sure that the offer of support is credible.
  • Provide comprehensive information about support services.  Good promotion and availability of this information is crucial in helping move people on.

You can read our good practice tips for assertive outreach here.