Black people 68% more likely than white people to be arrested under “outdated” Vagrancy Act

Latest research from Generation Rent has found that police in England are disproportionately using a 19th century law that criminalises rough sleeping against people who are Black.

Freedom of information responses from 35 police forces across England and Wales show that people who are Black made up 8% of the arrests under the Act in the last five years, despite making up only 4% of the general population. Only 5% of England’s rough sleeping population identify as Black, according to government figures, indicating that people who are Black are being disproportionately targeted by the police using the Act.

We are calling for an end to laws being used to target and criminalise people who sleep rough and people who are homeless, as well as government action to tackle the root cause of homelessness, especially the building of affordable and social homes.

The Vagrancy Act makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales. Despite the law technically being “repealed” in February 2022, the Act, which the government have described as “outdated”, remains in force, and will remain so until replacement laws are put in place.

The government intends for parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, currently passing through Parliament, to replace the Vagrancy Act. The stated aim of parts of this Bill is to target “Nuisance begging and rough sleeping”.

We believe that in its current form, this new law leaves the door open for people sleeping rough to continue to be criminalised for being homeless.

Any continued use of this pre-Victorian law to criminalise people who are already suffering on our streets shames our country, and to see it used in a discriminatory way shows even more clearly that it needs to go.

The Vagrancy Act turns 200 years old in this coming year, and we call on the government to end this cruelty. It is vital that any new laws do not simply re-introduce the criminalisation of homelessness and that the Government focus instead on measures to end homelessness.

The full data can be found here.

Read more about the current status of the Vagrancy Act here.

Sign up to support our campaign to end housing inequality here.


Looking for some help and can't find the answer ?

Let us know using the form below, and we’ll try to find out

Individual Advice

Generation Rent can’t offer advice about individual problems. Here are a few organisations that can:

You might also find quick but informal help on ACORN’s Facebook forum, and there are more suggestions on The Renters Guide.