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Vagrancy second act

June 01 2022

Earlier this year the government announced it would be repealing the Vagrancy Act. Fast forward a couple of months and the Vagrancy Act will instead be “replaced”. Read an update from Bronagh Sheridan

For nearly 200 years, people in England and Wales who are homeless or beg have faced the threat of being fined in accordance with the Vagrancy Act. This archaic law allows police officers to serve fines of up to £1,000 to those found to be asking for money or simply rough sleeping. In 2020, nearly 600 people were prosecuted under this act.

Organisations and charities dedicated to homelessness issues, such as Crisis, have long campaigned to scrap the law. The argument for getting rid of the law is simple – people experiencing homelessness and poverty should be supported, not punished.

Thanks to campaigning efforts and a growing societal pressure against the rising levels of poverty and subsequent homelessness, the government announced earlier this year it would repeal the law.

The announcement of the repeal was initially welcomed by homeless charities and their supporters, for seemingly putting a stop to the unfair prosecution of vulnerable people. But soon after the repeal announcement came the opening of a consultation of what will replacethis law. The Big Issue said that it shouldn’t be replaced, but scrapped entirely. However, it is understood that replacement legislation will be included in the new Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill. As it currently stands, the bill already holds legislation that will continue to discriminate against rough sleepers.

Part four of the bill covers laws around “unauthorised encampments”, turning trespassing from a civil to criminal offence. This will directly target Roma, Gypsy and Traveller people as they could be arrested and their vehicles (which for many are their homes) confiscated – all as a result of not stopping in one of the very few areas designated for them. This part of the bill will also affect rough sleepers as well as the growing numbers of people living in their cars.

The government closed consultations on the Vagrancy Act replacement at the beginning of May, and there is hope that the responses will show that simply removing these laws instead of replacing them will not only be more desirable, but more aligned to the government’s own commitments to ending homelessness.

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