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Housing

Robert Jenrick: Vagrancy Act ‘should be repealed’

The law was originally introduced in 1824 to give police powers to deal with destitute soldiers returning to the UK from the Napoleonic Wars

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has hinted that the 19th-century law which criminalises rough sleeping and begging could finally be scrapped. 

Responding to a question by Nickie Aiken MP during a debate on the latest rough sleeping figures, Jenrick said he believed the Vagrancy Act should be “consigned to history” and the Government would provide an update soon.

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 “We have reviewed the Vagrancy Act and will be saying more in the weeks ahead,” Jenrick said. 

“It is my opinion that the Vagrancy Act should be repealed. It is an antiquated piece of legislation whose time has been and gone. 

“We should consider carefully whether better, more modern legislation could be introduced to preserve some aspects of it, but the Act itself, I think, should be consigned to history.” 

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Charities have long called for the legislation, which was introduced in 1824 to give police powers to deal with destitute soldiers returning to the UK from the Napoleonic Wars, to be repealed.

In 2017, the Government announced a review of the act as part of its rough sleeping strategy but the law remains in place today

In June 2019, Crisis released a report outlining the legal considerations for scrapping the law and why the Act might not be suitable in the present day.

It was backed by homeless organisations, senior police officers and politicians from across party lines, including Aiken, the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster.

In January 2020, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran introduced a bill to repeal the law, which was also backed by MPs across the Commons, including Caroline Lucas and Tracey Crouch.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said Jenrick was “absolutely right” to say the Act should be repealed. 

This archaic piece of law does nothing to tackle the root causes of rough sleeping and instead drives people further away from support,” Sparkes said. 

“This ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to homelessness benefits no one and denies people dignity and respect. 

“We have worked closely with MPs, police and people with lived experience of rough sleeping to right this historic wrong, and look forward to working with the UK government on the legislation to repeal the act.” 

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