Sunday, January 16, 2022

The vagrant law making it illegal to sleep outdoors is finally being repealed by the government

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Priti Patel plans to introduce an amendment to the Police Act, which is currently going through Parliament

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Housing Secretary Michael Gove have joined forces to repeal the 19th-century Vagrancy Act.

Victorian-era legislation making it a criminal offense to get restless sleep is finally set to be repealed as part of the Police, Crime, Conviction and Courts Act currently going through Parliament.

The government has repeatedly promised to repeal the law, but has not done so. Charity activists have warned ministers to “stop kicking that can on the street” and clarify the details of the lifting immediately.

Ms Patel will table an amendment to the Police Act next week, opening a consultation on what powers in the Vagrancy Act need to be retained by police, such as the ability to arrest people for aggressive begging.

A government source said I: “This change is long overdue – the government firmly believes that rough sleeping should not be criminalised. It is of the utmost importance that a person who is truly destitute receives assistance to get them to safe accommodation.

“But we must ensure there is no loophole in the powers of the police when it comes to aggressive begging or anti-social behaviour. So the upcoming Priti consultation on police powers will ensure that the laws are fit for the 21st century.”

Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has expressed frustration at his inability to find parliamentary time to repeal the legislation and supports a Lord’s Amendment to the Police Act which would have done so.

However, government insiders say it was only after Mr Gove took over in September that cross-departmental work began on how best to amend the law.

Matt Downie, head of homelessness charity Crisis, said: “The Government has a perfect opportunity to finally repeal the Vagrancy Act next week and it would be sorely disappointing if they didn’t take it. Every day that the vagrant law stays in place is another day that poorly sleeping and destitute people are criminalized simply because they have no home.

“The government needs to stop kicking that can in the street – the vagrant law needs to be repealed. Until then, people will remain trapped in a cycle of poverty that limits any chance the government has of ending sleep-deprived sleep by 2024.”

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