Real Estate

Plans to criminalise homeless people dropped

The government has dropped plans to criminalise homeless people for “nuisance begging” or because of “excessive” smells, owing to a revolt from around 40 Conservative MPs.

The Criminal Justice Bill could have criminalised homeless people for sleeping in a doorway, under a crackdown mooted by controversial former home secretary Suella Braverman. The plan was to move them on, fine them up to £2,500 or imprison them.

Following an amendment to the Bill, before criminality is considered police will be told to direct rough sleepers to support services such as hostels or addiction treatment

Policing minister Chris Philp said: “Nobody should be criminalised for having nowhere to live, but as we have always said, we will not accept behaviour that is anti-social or intimidating to the public, such as rough sleeping in a way that blocks a local business or fire escape.”

James Cleverley, the current home secretary, confirmed that the government would scrap the Vagrancy Act from 1824, which makes rough sleeping illegal, replacing it with the new legislation.

The Home Office said the “excessive” smells aspect was intended to refer to rubbish or human waste – rather than criminalising people for not being able to wash.

Josie Parsons, chief executive of housing provider Local Space, said: “Victimising people who are unintentionally homeless and sleeping rough should never be part of any legislation in a free and fair society and we are glad that the government has seen sense and dropped its proposal to effectively criminalise homelessness.

“Criminalising what is a social issue is not the answer nor a solution. If the government is serious about addressing the issue of record numbers of people sleeping rough and housing in temporary accommodation then it needs to address the root cause and urgently increase the amount of available social housing either through a massive new build programme or by acquiring at scale unsold newbuild market housing to meet the need.

“Combined with this there also needs to be a significant expansion of good quality settled accommodation for those who are homeless and awaiting placement in permanent accommodation.”

MPs who objected to the plans included Bob Blackman, Nickie Aiken, Tracey Crouch, Selaine Saxby, Stephen Hammond, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Jo Gideon, Caroline Nokes, Derek Thomas, John Penrose and Damian Green.

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