The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced a consultation seeking views on the replacement of offences previously held in the Vagrancy Act.
The Vagrancy Act was passed through Parliament in 1824 and made it an offence to sleep rough or engage in begging activity in England and Wales. As recently as 2020/21, over 800 criminal cases relating to begging reached a first hearing in magistrates courts.
The consultation, which is open until the 5th May, follows the Government issuing an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to scrap the antiquated legislation following campaigning from the homelessness sector, led by Crisis’ Scrap the Act campaign.
It is seeking insight in the following three main areas:
- How to replace the offences in the Vagrancy Act which prohibit begging in an appropriate way that prioritises getting individuals into support.
- How we can make sure that replacement legislation on begging supports the right environment in which to deliver effective services and to engage with vulnerable people constructively.
- What other changes – either legislative or non-legislative – should be considered to better equip police, local authorities, and other agencies to engage with people who are rough sleeping and to encourage them into support.
We know that coercive approaches to begging and rough sleeping only serve to ostracise people. Therefore, this is a great opportunity to provide evidence which could lead to embedding more compassionate, support-led approaches across the country.
Any person/organisation can respond to the consultation, but Homeless Link will also be creating a number of ways that its members can feed into our own submission. If you would like to be involved in this process then please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are particularly interested to hear of any current examples of good practice in terms of supportive engagement with local police services that could inform our submission.