Hundreds of people still being prosecuted for begging ahead of law change

People are still being prosecuted for begging – but the Government is set to repeal the law.

The Government has accepted an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will see the 1824 Vagrancy Act repealed.

It follows a campaign by homelessness charity Crisis to get rid of the dated law, which makes it illegal to sleep rough or beg.

In 2020, there were 420 prosecutions in England and Wales under the provisions against begging in the Act.

Of these, 293 led to a conviction – with one dealt with by a prison sentence, two with a suspended sentence, 177 with a fine, three dealt with by a community sentence, 20 with an absolute discharge, 75 with a conditional discharge, and 15 dealt with in another way.

The number of prosecutions was down from 927 in 2019.

Since 2010, numbers have fallen but were as high as 2,219 prosecutions in 2014.

There were also 158 prosecutions for being on enclosed premises for an unlawful purpose under the Act.

People can also be prosecuted for sleeping out under the Vagrancy Act – however, there were no prosecutions for this in 2020.

Matt Downie, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “For almost 200 years, the criminalisation of homelessness has shamed our society. But now, at long last, the Vagrancy Act’s days are numbered and not a moment too soon.

“This offensive law does nothing to tackle rough sleeping, only entrenching it further in our society by driving people further from support. We know there are better, more effective ways to help people overcome their homelessness.

“We thank the UK government for using the policing bill to finally consign this appalling act to history, where it belongs. We look forward to working with them to finish the job without delay and ensure the criminalisation of destitution is over.

“We are immensely grateful for the tireless work of Peers and MPs from across parties, as well as every Crisis supporter who has got behind our Scrap the Act campaign, who have all brought us to this historic moment.”

Of the 420 prosecutions for begging in 2020, 293 led to a conviction – with one leading to a prison sentence, and two suspended sentences also given.

Most of those convicted were given fines.

Rough Sleeping and Housing Minister Eddie Hughes, said: “The Vagrancy Act is outdated and needs replacing, and so I’m delighted to announce the government will repeal it in full.

“This is the next step of our action, which has already driven a 37% drop in rough sleeping since 2019 and we will build on this with a strategy setting out how we will end rough sleeping for good, support vulnerable people off the streets and continue to protect communities from crime and antisocial behaviour.”

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