Image shows a tent in a shop doorway
Image shows a tent in a shop doorway

The Criminal Justice Bill introduces a framework on ‘nuisance begging’ and ‘nuisance rough sleeping’.  This includes granting an ‘authorised person’ the power to direct an individual to move on from a location and not return for 72 hours.  It also creates prevention notices and orders, which, if not complied with, can result in a fine of £2,500, a month in prison, or both. 

The Government did agree to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, which criminalises begging and rough sleeping, in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.  This agreement had cross-party support and was a victory for campaigners.  However, the Government has stated that it will only repeal it once suitable replacement legislation is in place, i.e. the Criminal Justice Bill. 

I strongly object to the Bill’s provisions on nuisance rough sleeping.  We must remember that rough sleeping is a symptom of other policy failures – such as housing, poverty, and mental healthcare provision.  Rough sleepers need support, and I do not feel that criminalising those in need will help to resolve this issue.  By not addressing the root causes of homelessness, this Bill does not address the challenges that we face. 

I want to see the creation of a workable housing-led strategy to tackle homelessness.  We need to provide people with access to support before they arrive onto the streets and ensure that everyone has a meaningful route out of rough sleeping. 

On a related note, my Opposition Colleagues and I continue to press the Government to deliver its 2019 manifesto pledge to abolish Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions in the Renters (Reform) Bill, which push people towards potential homelessness. 

The issue of nuisance begging is more nuanced.  Some organised criminal gangs can use begging for their own ends, and these strategies can be aggressive and antisocial.  This is wrong, and I therefore support powers that can tackle organised begging.

These powers do, however, require greater humanity to protect those who are being exploited and are genuinely destitute.  My Opposition colleagues laid several amendments on the issue of nuisance begging at Committee Stage but, disappointingly, they did not pass. 

I want to see cross-party work done to improve this legislation.  I support measures in the Bill on issues such as fraud, antisocial behaviour and image-based abuse, but on the two major issues of homelessness and begging, there is still a way to go before this Bill is a worthwhile improvement on the Vagrancy Act 1824. 

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