Skip to main content

Leading housing and homelessness organisations urge Home Secretary to reconsider rough sleeping proposals

Thirty-seven organisations working on housing and homelessness have written to the Home Secretary urging him to reconsider plans to move on, fine and imprison people forced to sleep rough in England and Wales.

In a letter to James Cleverly, organisations including Crisis, Amnesty UK, St Mungo’s and the National Housing Federation argue that the proposals in the new Criminal Justice Bill risk stigmatising people forced to sleep on the streets and pushing them away from help.

The government claims that the Criminal Justice Bill will update the 200-year old Vagrancy Act, under which people could be moved on or fined for rough sleeping. Pointing to the new proposals, however, MPs and charities have argued that the new legislation would simply make these laws more punitive.

The proposals include increased fines of up to £2,500 and prison terms for people deemed a ‘nuisance’ when rough sleeping. The definition includes people who look like they have slept rough, who ‘intend’ to sleep rough, who appear ‘likely’ to cause a nuisance and who carry an ‘excessive smell’. It could see women, who are disproportionately likely to suffer violence and sexual abuse on the streets, penalised for seeking safety in well-lit doorways.

The letter follows news that more than 40 Conservative MPs from all wings of the party would vote against the new measures, threatening the passage of the bill. Bob Blackman MP described the proposals as “completely unacceptable”.

In 2019 the UK government committed to ending rough sleeping in its manifesto. In 2022 it declared that there is “a moral imperative to end rough sleeping and to end it for good”.  

The organisations with experience of supporting people out of homelessness emphasise that a range of factors can quickly force people onto the streets – such as the lack of social homes and the rising cost of living. They argue that the new measures would undermine other government initiatives to help people rebuild their lives away from the streets. They emphasise instead the importance of stable housing and support, and of establishing trust between people and the authorities.

Further signees to the letter, included in full below, include Liberty, the Chartered Institute for Housing, Centrepoint, The Wallich, Shelter, The Salvation Army and the YMCA.

Recent government data found that 3,898 people slept rough on one autumn night across England, an increase of 27% on the previous year. It is estimated that more than 242,000 households are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness in England, including sofa surfing, being trapped in temporary accommodation and rough sleeping. Recent research from Crisis also revealed that nine in 10 people sleeping rough have been victims of violence or abuse.

Matt Downie, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “The government cites a moral imperative to end rough sleeping, yet these new measures will make it more difficult to do so. They will punish people for having nowhere else to go and push them further away from support.

“If we focus on the solutions that work – building safe and stable social housing and investing in specialist support that helps people keep their home – we can end rough sleeping. But the first and easiest thing the Home Secretary can do is listen to the concerns of these experienced organisations and remove these cruel and counterproductive measures.”