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Wales homelessness and housing organisations speak out against plans to criminalise rough sleeping

A number of leading homelessness and housing organisations in Wales have expressed grave concerns about the impact of proposed new laws on people facing street homelessness.

The organisations have written to a Senedd Committee to caution against plans in the UK Government’s Criminal Justice Bill. UK ministers are proposing new police powers around so-called “nuisance rough sleeping” and “nuisance begging” in England and Wales. If passed, these powers would include the ability to move on, fine up to £2,500, or imprison a person who is, or appears as though they are intending to, sleep rough or beg.

The letter, addressed to the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, states that these laws would reapply the worst parts of the archaic 200-year-old Vagrancy Act, which the UK parliament previously voted to scrap. The co-signatories, which include Crisis, CIH (Chartered Institute of Housing) Cymru, Cymorth Cymru, Llamau, The Salvation Army in Wales, Shelter Cymru, Tai Pawb and The Wallich, emphasise that “no one should be punished for being homeless.”

The letter goes on to say that people sleeping on the streets already face significant danger and that, if introduced, these laws will push people into less safe areas. Furthermore, the laws would break down trust between people forced to sleep on the streets and the organisations and authorities that can provide help – pushing people further away from support.

The letter comes as the Senedd Committee embarks on reporting on the Criminal Justice Bill in Wales. The Welsh Government has already expressed concerns that the proposals are not in-keeping with its favoured trauma-informed approach to supporting people facing street homelessness.

Chair of the Senedd’s Cross Party Group on Housing, Mabon ap Gwynfor, has also scheduled a Statement of Opinion at the Senedd, speaking out against the Bill.

Opposition is growing around these aspects of the Bill at Westminster, where wide-ranging organisations across England and Wales are lobbying for the measures to be dropped. MPs from across the House are supporting amendments to the Bill that would remove the clauses on rough sleeping and begging.

Members of the public across England and Wales are being asked to join more than 10,000 people who have already written to their MP to ask them to support the removal of these measures.

Matt Downie, Crisis Chief Executive, said: “A future without homelessness is possible, but criminalising people who have nowhere to go is most certainly not the answer. These proposals will do nothing to help people into safe and secure homes and only serve to push people away from support services.

“As the Bill progresses through the UK parliament, we hope the Members of the Senedd will join us in doing all they can to voice concerns around these cruel laws.

“We also urge the Welsh Government to act within its powers to drive forward progress with its plan to end homelessness, pressing ahead with proposed changes to make homeless support in Wales more trauma-informed and inclusive and accelerating the building of desperately needed social homes.”

Sam Austin, Llamau Deputy Chief Executive, said: ‘We are appalled at the idea of criminalising people just because they are homeless.

“The route to ending homelessness lies in early identification, prevention and intervention services, access to the right support at the right time to end the repeating cycle of homelessness, well-funded support and prevention services and more affordable homes – not in blame and criminalisation.”

Nick Redmore, The Salvation Army’s Director of Homeless Services, added: “The focus should be on giving people a safe place to stay rather than criminalising desperation.

“Imposing fines on people will make it even harder for them to move on from street living.”

Robin White, Head of Campaigns at Shelter Cymru, said: “At Shelter Cymru we know ending homelessness is possible, but proposals to criminalise people sleeping rough will only make this harder. Homelessness is not a crime and approaching it in this way will serve only to damage trust and increase the challenge of getting people the support they need.

“Instead of criminalising rough sleeping, we need to invest in comprehensive solutions, providing access to affordable housing, support services, and employment opportunities. Underpinned by a legal right to adequate housing.

“We urge Members of the Senedd, the Welsh Government and Welsh MPs to stand united in opposition to this Bill and to focus on compassionate approaches to solving homelessness. Approaches that empower people and that leave nobody sleeping on our streets.”


Notes to Editors 

  • The letter to the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee is available here.
  • More information about the Criminal Justice Bill and the campaign against criminalising homelessness is available here.
  • Members of the public across England and Wales are being invited to write to their MP to ask them to support the removal of these measures. Over 10,000 people have already done so.
  • The Welsh Government’s Legislative Consent Memorandum is available here.