'This bill will lead to the criminalisation of people for being homeless'

'This bill will lead to the criminalisation of people for being homeless'

The police and crime bill threatens to criminalise people facing homelessness as well as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. We wrote a joint letter to the government urging them to ditch the bill.

This week, we teamed up with 12 charities and housing groups to write a joint letter to the housing and communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, calling on him to intervene on the police and crime bill.

We’re concerned that, in its current drafting, the bill will lead to the criminalisation of homeless people in certain situations. It’ll also criminalise the way of finding home for particular groups, such as the Gypsy and Traveller communities.

You can read the letter in full below:

Dear Mr Jenrick,

As the country’s leading housing and homelessness organisations we are concerned that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will lead to the criminalisation of people facing homelessness. The Bill will criminalise people staying in so-called ‘unauthorised encampments’. This is of great concern as it threatens to criminalise many from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who aren’t given enough suitable sites for their housing needs.

However, Part 4 is also of great concern to a wider group of people who are homeless.

As currently drafted, the legislation risks putting any person who resorts to living in a car, van or other vehicle – or indeed has a vehicle parked near where they may be sleeping rough – at risk of arrest and imprisonment if they have been asked to leave by the landowner or police.

While this could apply in rural areas it could also apply in city centre car parks, a public road or private driveway. Many people experiencing homelessness sleep in cars, or in tents with their vehicle nearby, such as people who have work vehicles, e.g. for delivery driving. We recognise that Government has said it does not intend for these people to be caught by the offence but ask for clarification to the Bill to ensure this.

Further, we are concerned that the Bill’s use of the term ‘residing’ needs to be clarified. Case law concerning residential tenancies suggests that a person can only be considered to `reside’ if they have settled or intend to settle in a place, not if they were compelled to stay there on an emergency or short-term basis. People who are street homeless have to sleep somewhere.

We are pleased to be working with you on your commitment to end rough sleeping for good and are concerned this legislation would make that goal harder. We have fought for many years against the criminalisation of rough sleeping, and for progressive evidence-based, support-led interventions. Earlier this year we were pleased to hear you agreed that the antiquated Vagrancy Act should be repealed and said you would look at alternatives. It would be deeply unfortunate if this new legislation mean that, almost 200 years later, we saw further criminalisation of people sleeping rough by a modern-day Police Bill.

We believe that, whether intentionally or not, this Bill will lead to the criminalisation of people for being homeless. While we oppose the Bill for its impact on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities from a housing and homelessness perspective, we also wanted to raise with you the wider impact. Given this – and given wider concerns with Part 3 of the Bill – we believe that the government should not proceed with the legislation. However, should the government take this Bill forward, urgent clarification is needed around the intent of the powers contained within Part 4 to ensure that it is never a crime to be homeless.

We would be delighted to discuss this matter with you.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Bell OBE
Chief Executive
Changing Lives

Jackie Bliss
Chief Executive
HARP (Southend’s Homelessness Charity)

Steve Benson
Chief Executive
Two Saints

Steve Douglas
Chief Executive
St Mungo’s

Amanda Dubarry
Chief Executive
Caritas Anchor House

Mark Grant
Chief Executive
Action Homelessness

Rick Henderson
Chief Executive
Homeless Link

Harry McKeown
Head of Housing and Support
YMCA St Paul’s Group

Ellie McNeil
Chief Executive
YMCA Together

Polly Neate
Chief Executive

Mark Simms
Chief Executive
P3 – People Potential Possibilities

Gavin Smart
Chartered Institute of Housing

Jon Sparkes
Chief Executive