Braverman plan to criminalise rough sleeping dropped after Tory criticism

Ministers will drop plans to criminalise rough sleepers for being deemed a nuisance or having an excessive smell after Conservative MPs threatened a revolt over the proposals.

The plans, originally announced by the then home secretary Suella Braverman, had been condemned by homeless charities as dehumanising.

The criminal justice bill, which returns to the Commons on Wednesday, would have given police powers to move on anyone who looked like they might be intending to sleep rough or even because of the way they smelled.

Conservative MPs led by Bob Blackman and Nickie Aiken and including the former ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Tracey Crouch had submitted an amendment to the bill to remove the language.

But on Monday, the home secretary, James Cleverly, said the government would amend the bill to compel police and local authorities to direct homeless people to support services before criminal sanctions could be used.

Police can require rough sleepers to move on for antisocial behaviour, damage or harassment, if they decline support and ignore a formal warning.

Announcing the change, Cleverly said the government acknowledged that the bill should also contain provisions for support. “This government is committed to ending rough sleeping,” he said. “To achieve this, we must take a multifaceted approach that supports vulnerable people off the streets and ensures everyone can feel safe in our neighbourhoods and communities.

“We are scrapping the outdated Vagrancy Act and replacing it with new measures that focus on supporting people, while ensuring the police and local authorities are able to address behaviour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.”

The Home Office said it would remove references to odours in the bill, saying the original intention had been to tackle dumped rubbish or human waste, rather than criminalising rough sleepers for being unable to wash.

The government will also change a definition of nuisance rough sleeping from being “capable of causing distress” to require it to be specifically about damage to property or disruption of a business.

Homelessness charities said they were still disappointed the bill retained the legal concept of “nuisance” rough sleeping, and said guidance to police to signpost support services was not a guarantee of help.

Matt Downie, the chief executive of Crisis, 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.”

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Braverman announced the provisions targeting rough sleepers in widely condemned comments to the effect that rough sleeping was a “lifestyle choice” and in which she said: “We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad.”

Several cabinet ministers distanced themselves from Braverman’s language, and Rishi Sunak refused to endorse them. She was sacked as home secretary shortly afterwards.

The policing minister, Chris Philp, said the measures in the bill would still address aggressive begging or intimidating behaviour. “Nobody should be criminalised for having nowhere to live, but as we have always said, we will not accept behaviour that is antisocial or intimidating to the public, such as rough sleeping in a way that blocks a local business or fire escape,” he said.

“I want to thank Bob Blackman MP and Nickie Aiken MP for their dedication and cooperation on this issue. We have listened carefully to the proposals and have worked constructively to ensure they are proportionate, properly targeted, and ensure vulnerable people are directed towards support while protecting communities from antisocial behaviour.”


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