30 Nov 2023

CIH response to Criminal Justice Bill

In February last year, Parliament supported the repeal of the Vagrancy Act via an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in a landmark rejection of historic laws that criminalise people sleeping rough. At the Chartered Institute of Housing, we joined with others in the housing and homelessness sector in welcoming this. However, no commencement date was included in the amendment, so the Act technically remains in force. The government are now introducing replacement legislation via the Criminal Justice Bill, which had its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 28 November.

We are very concerned about the approach being taken in the Criminal Justice Bill as drafted, which introduces laws that criminalise homelessness. It does not reflect the government’s declared aim of providing people with support and only resorting to enforcement where necessary. Instead, the Bill introduces a wide definition of ‘nuisance rough sleeping’ that could criminalise people sleeping rough by the back door and would, in practice, result in worse criminalisation of people sleeping rough than under the Vagrancy Act.

As Crisis and other homelessness charities have outlined, this approach will severely undermine any effort from people sleeping rough to engage in support services, pushing people further into destitution and potential exploitation as the Vagrancy Act did.

We join with Crisis in asking the government to:

  • Confirm they will enact the repeal of the 1824 Vagrancy Act immediately and remove the parts of the Criminal Justice Bill relating to nuisance rough sleeping
  • Invest in proven interventions that help to end rough sleeping, like Housing First, which is shown to work to support people with multiple and complex support needs out of rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness for good
  • Reverse the recent changes to the issuing of ‘Notices to Quit’ for asylum seekers, which have meant refugees who have been granted settled status being evicted from accommodation within a matter of 7 days, forcing many to sleep rough.

We have set out further detail on homelessness prevention in our manifesto.

Homes at the heart – A strategy for housing

CIH's chief executive Gavin Smart commented on the Bill 

"At CIH we welcome Government’s commitment to tackling homelessness, but we’re concerned to see that the measures introduced in the new Criminal Justice Bill appear to focus on criminalising people sleeping rough rather than providing the support they need. We urge Government to rethink its approach and to focus on proven interventions that will help the most vulnerable."

The Criminal Justice Bill will shortly move into Committee stage where it will undergo further parliamentary scrutiny. We will follow its progress and keep members updated. For further information contact policyandpractice@cih.org