The UK Vagrancy Act criminalizes sleeping outside and begging—essentially homelessness—in England and Wales. Under this law, police have the power to arrest people found begging in public, or in enclosed spaces. Anyone convicted of these crimes is charged with up to £1,000 in fines along with a two-year criminal record.
Liberal Democrat Layla Moran has been campaigning for this to change and was “elated” to find support from ministers who have introduced an amendment to a bill in Parliament that overrides the Vagrancy Act. “No one should be criminalized for sleeping rough, especially by a piece of legislation passed in the Georgian era,” Moran added.
Usually, the Vagrancy Act ends “with people being given fines they can’t afford to pay or being sent to prison, which only exacerbates their problems,” says Supt. Ian Green of the West Midlands Police.
Eddie Hughes, the “Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing,” declared the law “outdated” and in need of replacing. The law has already been repealed in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and there’s been a shift in policing attitudes overall, with police forces saying that they were moving away from arresting people under this act in favor of more “meaningful solutions.”
According to Matt Downie, head of homelessness charity Crisis, the repeal is a “landmark day in the fight against homelessness,” adding that even though the law “won’t build homes… it is a turning point in how people are treated.”