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Councils call for clear and enforceable powers, full funding of new regime replacing Vagrancy Act

Any new reforms proposed when replacing the Vagrancy Act 1824 would need to be clear and enforceable, with enforcing bodies fully resourced to apply them, the Local Government Association has argued.

“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,” the LGA also said in its response to a Government consultation.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation last month on replacing the 1824 Act, which makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales.

The consultation, which closed on 5 May, covered the following areas:

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a. How to replace the offences in the Vagrancy Act which prohibit begging "in an appropriate way that prioritises getting individuals into support".

b. How to make sure that replacement legislation on begging "supports the right environment in which to deliver effective services and to engage with vulnerable people constructively".

c. What other changes – either legislative or non-legislative – should be considered "to better equip police, local authorities, and other agencies to engage with people who are rough sleeping and to encourage them into support".

In its response the LGA said that as the consultation noted, 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.”

It added that there were are more aggressive forms of begging, and association with criminal activity, that might 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.”

The LGA response also suggested that it would be helpful for the Government 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 in relation to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to explicitly address instances of aggressive begging, would be useful, the Association said.

The LGA also said amongst other things that:

  • It supported an approach that ensures people are offered the right support at the right time, rather than criminalisation.
  • 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.
  • It wanted to work with the Government on the urgent implementation of a cross-government homelessness prevention strategy, associated with the multi-year funding that had been announced.
  • All Government departments should make a number of national commitments to preventing homelessness.

The LGA noted that there could be issues with more aggressive begging, “for example when a person is followed from a cashpoint to their vehicle or travelling home and they are persistently asked for money”. 

It noted that 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.

However, beyond this, there was no mention of how specific forms of begging should be addressed via the 2014 legislation. 

“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 LGA said.

“The existing statutory guidance could be updated to reflect the appropriate response to certain instances of aggressive begging, using these existing powers.”

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