Charities voice concerns over rough sleeping clampdown

Home Secretary James Cleverly is coming under pressure to make changes to Criminal Justice Bill.

Homeless people sleep on the plinth of the Ferdinand Foch equestrian statue in Victoria, London
Homeless people sleep on the plinth of the Ferdinand Foch equestrian statue in Victoria, London (Nick Ansell/PA)

Charities have written to the Home Secretary James Cleverly to oppose plans to clamp down on rough sleepers.

Crisis, Amnesty UK and the Big Issue are among more than 30 charities who say measures in the Criminal Justice Bill could see vulnerable women fined for seeking shelter.

The letter praises certain elements of the Bill designed to end rough sleeping, but says other parts “undermine” that progress.

“It could see women, who are disproportionately likely to suffer violence and sexual abuse on the streets, penalised for seeking shelter and safety in well-lit doorways,” the letter says.

Matt Downie, chief executive of the national homelessness charity Crisis, has previously urged Home Secretary James Cleverly to drop “cruel and unnecessary measures and focus on the real solutions” including building more social housing.

A homeless person sleeping rough in a doorway
A homeless person sleeping rough in a doorway (Yui Mok/PA)

He said: “Through our frontline services we see the brutality rough sleeping inflicts on people’s lives. With more and more people being pushed to the brink from the increased cost of living, we need a compassionate approach, not one that threatens people with fines or imprisonment.”

More than 40 Conservative MPs are expected to rebel against parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, which would allow the police to fine “nuisance” rough sleepers.

Critics say the Bill is drafted so widely it could result in people being arrested or fined for having an “excessive odour”, or merely appearing as though they intend to sleep rough.

Former ministers Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green are among 10 Tories who have signed a series of amendments to the Bill – which was written under previous home secretary Suella Braverman – aimed at countering the drive to criminalise rough sleeping.

Measures tabled by Tory MP Bob Blackman (Harrow East) would seek to ensure ministers fulfil their promise to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, the law which currently criminalises rough sleeping and begging.

The Government promised to do so when it passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act in 2022, but only when it found a suitable replacement.

Measures in the Criminal Justice Bill aim to provide this replacement but are thought to be too widely drawn by the Tory rebels.

Mr Blackman told the Times newspaper he and his colleagues were urging the Government to think again.

“A lot of colleagues believe that the Bill as it stands is completely unacceptable because it would have the effect of criminalising people who have no choice but to sleep on the streets,” he added.

A second amendment from Mr Blackman aims to clarify when the police are able to use the new powers.