Tory ministers abandon ‘outrageous’ plan to arrest homeless folks in the event that they scent

Ministers have ditched plans to criminalise homeless people for being a “nuisance” or because of “excessive” smells after a Tory revolt.

The Criminal Justice Bill, which is going through Parliament, would have handed police new powers to fine or move on rough sleepers, which could have led to a homeless person being prosecuted just for sleeping in a doorway. The crackdown, originally unveiled by hard-line former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, aims to get rid of Victorian-era legislation that criminalises rough sleeping.

But the Government caved to pressure on Monday after more than 40 Conservative MPs backed a bid to remove language around excessive smells. The Home Office said the references had been intended to refer to rubbish or human waste – and was never meant to criminalise people for not being able to wash.

Police will also be told to direct rough sleepers to support services such as hostels or addiction treatment before using criminal sanctions, under new amendments from the Government. People who “continue to cause anti-social behaviour, such as damage or harassment” despite being offered support will be “required to stop and asked to move on with a rough sleeping notice”, the Home Office said.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the Government had listened to complaints about the legislation

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the Government had listened to complaints about the legislation
PA Wire)

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “We are scrapping the outdated Vagrancy Act and replacing it with new measures that focus on supporting people, while ensuring the police and local authorities are able to address behaviour that makes the public feel unsafe. This Government listens, and we have worked hard to ensure these proposals prioritise helping vulnerable individuals, whilst ensuring communities are safer and better protected.”

Policing Minister Chris Philp said: “Nobody should be criminalised for having nowhere to live, but as we have always said, we will not accept behaviour that is anti-social or intimidating to the public, such as rough sleeping in a way that blocks a local business or fire escape.”

Homelessness charity Crisis said it was pleased to that the “more outrageous measures contained in the Bill” had been stripped out but warned that rough sleepers still risk being criminalised. Chief executive Matt Downie said: “We have said time and time again that these powers are not needed. If the Westminster Government really wants to end rough sleeping, then it should focus on the things we know work – such as building thousands more social homes and increasing funding for support services like Housing First. Criminalising people who don’t have a home will never be the answer.”

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “Homelessness is a political choice. The Government’s catastrophic failure to build enough social homes combined with skyrocketing private rents has led to record numbers of people not being able to afford to keep a roof over their heads. Instead of punishing people for the Government’s own political failures, politicians should be trying to prevent them from ending up on the streets.”

The Government says it remains committed to ending rough sleeping but the latest snapshot figures for England released earlier this year showed the number of people recorded sleeping rough on a given night soared by 27% in a year to 3,898. The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping last year predicted the Government will not meet 2019 manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.