‘Cruel’ law sees thousands taken to court for begging and rough sleeping, figures show
The Vagrancy Act is still being used to prosecute people on the streets, despite the Housing Secretary calling for it to be “consigned to history”
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A law which criminalises begging and rough sleeping was used to bring people to court 11,700 times over nearly six years, figures show.
Homelessness charity Crisis says the “cruel” Vagrancy Act – which the Housing Secretary six months ago said should be abolished – drives vulnerable people away from support and can keep them on the streets for longer.
The law, created in the early 1800s, sees anyone prosecuted facing a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal that between April 2015 and December last year, police forces across England and Wales made 11,651 charges which resulted in court hearings, using the act’s two most commonly-used sections.
The majority were for begging (section 3 breaches), with the remainder for rough sleeping or being in an enclosed space without permission (section 4).
The Crown Prosecution Service, which provided the figures, said the coronavirus pandemic impacted the volume of cases dealt with by courts across England and Wales last spring.
But despite this, there were still 701 Vagrancy Act court cases between April and December last year, the figures show.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons in February that the act should be "consigned to history".
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said the charity was encouraged by Mr Jenrick’s comments, but is disappointed that the “offensive and counterproductive law” remains in place.
He said: “We all agree that the cruel, unnecessary Vagrancy Act should be scrapped but it’s still being used week in, week out with devastating consequences.
“Fining people who already have next to nothing is pointless and just drives people further away from support, often keeping them on the streets for longer.”
Mike Amesbury, shadow housing minister, said the "outdated" legislation criminalises people who have lost their home.
"Stable and secure housing underpins opportunities, saving lives and livelihoods," he added.
"It’s in everyone’s interests that ministers focus on ending homelessness through support, prevention and stronger legislation to protect renters."
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “The Government is clear that no one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live and the time has come to reconsider the Vagrancy Act.
“Work is ongoing to look at this complex issue and it is important that we look carefully at all options. We will update on our findings in due course.”
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