The UK must stop criminalising people who sleep rough

Generation Rent has today joined other housing and homelessness organisations in calling on the government to end their plans to criminalise people who are being forced to sleep rough in England and Wales.

The government is facing increasing pressure to shelve proposed changes to the law that could see people being fined or arrested for having an “excessive odour”, or merely appearing as if they intended to sleep rough.

In 2022 the government declared that there is “a moral imperative to end rough sleeping and to end it for good”.

We agree. A wide range of factors, from the lack of truly affordable homes to the rising cost of living, can quickly force people into homelessness and onto the streets. Sleeping rough is dangerous and terrifying: recent research found that nine out of 10 people who survive without a safe roof over their heads are subject to violence and abuse.

After committing in its manifesto to end rough sleeping by the end of this year, the government put £2bn behind a rough sleeping strategy in England. The Chancellor also recently restored local housing allowance rates, which will help many more people afford their rent, protecting some from eviction and homelessness.

What is the Criminal Justice Bill?

Measures in the new Criminal Justice Bill, however, will undermine these commitments. The Bill proposes fines and prison terms for people in England and Wales who are considered a ‘nuisance’ when rough sleeping.

Under the terms of the Bill, this includes people who look like they have slept rough, or who merely ‘intend’ to do so.

It could see women, who are disproportionately likely to suffer violence and sexual abuse on the streets, penalised for seeking shelter and safety in well-lit doorways. It could see a fine of £2,500 issued to a person carrying an ‘excessive smell’.

To support people away from rough sleeping, we must establish trust between the authorities and those on the streets and find ways to connect people in unsafe situations with stable homes and support. The threat of fines and prison risks the opposite – stigmatising those forced to sleep rough, and pushing them away from help and into more dangerous environments.

Generation Rent has also been calling for the UK Government to extend eviction notice periods from two months to four months in England, which would prevent homelessness as it gives renters more time to save for deposits and find a new home to move into.

If the government is to meet its manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this year, they must reconsider these plans. Ending homelessness in a kind and person-centred way is an endeavour that should unite us all.

Are you a renter who has experienced homelessness? Tell us your story here.

Support Crisis’ campaign to end the criminalisation of homlessness here.


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