Review of the Vagrancy Act: Government consultation on effective replacement 5 May 2022

As the consultation notes, rough sleeping and begging can often be conflated, and the overlap between them is complex.


1.    About the Local Government Association

1.1. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically led, cross-party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales. 

1.2. Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

2.    Summary

2.1. We welcome the opportunity to work with the Government as it consults on an effective replacement of the Vagrancy Act. As the Government’s consultation is limited to four weeks, there has been limited opportunity to engage with our members on this issue, so this response outlines our immediate views. However, we will continue to work with Government, councils, police, and wider partners to consider the range of proposals that could be taken forward, in light of the Vagrancy Act being repealed. 

2.2. We agree with the consultation’s premise that begging can be both harmful to individuals and detrimental to communities. We also support the view that there may be value in raising public awareness about the drivers of begging and how it can sustain peoples’ lives on the street, with a view to changing public behaviours that can inadvertently undermine the work of authorities to support people off the streets.

2.3. As the consultation notes, rough sleeping and begging can often be conflated, and the overlap between them is complex. Not everyone who is living a street-based lifestyle is homeless and this crossover can be difficult for councils and partners to manage. It is also important to make a distinction between begging linked with rough sleeping and begging that is used by organised criminal gangs to support criminal activity. There are more aggressive forms of begging, and association with criminal activity, that may require a different response from partners. A one size fits all approach will not work and different tools are needed to respond to different types of begging. 

2.4. It will be helpful to have a clear view from councils and the police about what gaps could be created through the repeal of the Vagrancy Act, and which existing or new powers could be better utilised to address these complex issues. Updating existing guidance, for example the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to explicitly address instances of aggressive begging would be useful. 

2.5. Any new reforms proposed would need to be clear and enforceable, with enforcing bodies fully resourced to apply them. Alongside this, there would need to be clarity on how any new powers could be used to complement the existing powers that councils and the police have. 

3.    Homelessness and rough sleeping

3.1. Every instance of homelessness is a tragedy, and councils work hard to prevent rough sleeping and homelessness from happening and offer support to those who unfortunately find themselves in a difficult situation. We support an approach that ensures that people are offered the right support at the right time, rather than criminalisation. 

3.2. Crisis and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) recently produced guidance for police officers and partners around ending homelessness. This reinforces the importance of local agencies working collaboratively, with local communities, to understand, intervene and resolve the problems that can damage lives and lead to crime and anti-social behaviour. It encourages a more trauma-focused and supportive approach before going down the route of enforcement.

3.3. Some of the people rough sleeping, especially in large urban areas, are not homeless but are taking part in a street-based lifestyle which can have aspects of anti-social behaviour such as drug use and aggressive begging.

3.4. Individuals who are not homeless, and not meeting the threshold for ASB intervention from councils often fall outside of the remit of local authority services. This can make enforcement difficult where an individual is adequately housed but engages in street-based activities.

3.5. We want to work with the Government on the urgent implementation of a cross-government homelessness prevention strategy, associated with the multi-year funding that has been announced. 

3.6. All Government departments should make a number of national commitments to preventing homelessness, including developing an implementation plan, monitoring, and reporting their contribution, and ensuring their local delivery agents contribute to prevention activity and targets through Local Homelessness Strategies.

3.7. It would also be helpful for the Government to consider the drivers of certain forms of begging, which could help identify the most appropriate and proportionate response. For example, whether some of the more harmful instances of aggressive begging, driven by serious and organised crime, could be pursued through alternative police enforcement powers. 

3.8. There are examples of best practice in raising awareness of the drivers of homelessness and rough sleeping, that could benefit local communities. For example:

3.8.1.    No Homelessness In Norfolk - The ’Norfolk Strategic Housing Partnership’ (NSHP) was established in June 2020 to deliver the recommendations of the No Homelessness in Norfolk Plan. It has a clear programme of action and has been working across six themed working groups to uncover the challenges in accessing services for people facing homelessness and give a sense of what work is needed. Listening to peoples’ stories and lived experiences informs the direction of travel for homeless services across Norfolk. The police are an integral part of this partnership working and so far 600 rough sleepers have been rehoused.

3.8.2.    Portsmouth City Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Partnership Group - Portsmouth City Council takes a twin-track approach to ASB linked to homelessness and rough sleeping – support for the individual and enforcement where necessary. The community safety manager is based within the housing directorate and works with other council departments, commissioned services, and the police. Complaints typically come from the public and can include aggressive begging, drug-related activity, shoplifting and dangerous drug litter. The COVID-19 pandemic provided new opportunities to work with every homeless and rough-sleeping person in the city and by the end of the pandemic, the partnership had facilitated 444 people into accommodation. This intensive support was made possible by the hard work of the community wardens, housing officers, commissioned services, homeless healthcare team, police, outreach services and other council officers and councillors, at a very challenging time.

4.    Use of anti-social behaviour powers

4.1. Aggressive begging and other related anti-social behaviour (ASB) is an issue that councils and partners continue to grapple with. Enforcement action is always a last resort and the potential impact on vulnerable people is always considered by councils before powers are used. A collaborative approach alongside community partners to find a long-term solution is preferred.

4.2. However, there can be issues with more aggressive types of begging, for example when a person is followed from a cashpoint to their vehicle or travelling home and they are persistently asked for money. 

4.3. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act includes the criminal behaviour order (CBO), dispersal powers, community protection notices and public space protection orders (PSPOs) and civil injunctions. Breaches of these powers can result in fines or a custodial sentence. There are also a number of early and informal interventions such as verbal and written warnings, acceptable behaviour contracts and parenting contracts where children may be involved.

4.4. The Home Office’s statutory guidance on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 outlines that injunctions can be used to deal with a range of behaviours, including aggressive begging. Beyond this, there is no mention of how specific forms of begging should be addressed via the 2014 legislation. 

4.5. Before the introduction of any new offence or further legislation to tackle begging, it would be useful for the Government to fully explore the appropriate use of existing legislation such as the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The existing statutory guidance could be updated to reflect the appropriate response to certain instances of aggressive begging, using these existing powers. 
 

Contact
Rachel Phelps
Policy Adviser
Mobile: 07464 652844
Email: Rachel.Phelps@local.gov.uk