SHP has joined a coalition of homelessness charities who are calling on the Government to scrap a 195-year-old law that criminalises homeless people.

More than 20 organisations are supporting the #ScrapTheAct campaign which is asking for the repeal of the Vagrancy Act. Despite the law being nearly 200 years old, it is still being used by police forces, criminalising people who are rough sleeping and begging in England and Wales. (The law was scrapped in Scotland in 1982).

The law states that it is a criminal offence to sleep, “in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon, not having any visible means of subsistence”. The law also allows arrest for begging, with a maximum fine of up to £1,000.

Last year, 1,320 people were prosecuted under the law – up from six per cent in 2017. However, the law is primarily used informally as a threat to move on people who are sleeping rough.

The law hit the headlines earlier this year with claims that it is frequently used to remove rough sleepers in Westminister Underground Station. Last year, the Conservative Leader of Windsor and Maidenhead Council Simon Dudley gained national attention after demanding that the Police use the powers of the Act to clear rough sleepers off the streets ahead of the royal wedding.

However, with rough sleeping increasing by over 70 per cent since 2014, there is now a widespread belief that the Act is not fit for purpose, failing as an effective tool for dealing with rough sleepers.

Liz Rutherford, SHP’s CEO said: “The fact that a law from the 19th century is still being used to criminalise people for nothing more than having nowhere to live is a disgrace. It is a cruel and out-of-date practice, which criminalises people who are in need of help and protection.

“As a sector, we are looking for solutions to help people off the streets and away from homelessness – arrest and prosecution is not one of them, and is more likely to push people further away from the support they need.”

As well as homeless charities, the repeal of the Vagrancy Act has high profile support with backing from politicians and senior Police Officers - including Bernard Hogan-Howe, the former Metropolitan police commissioner.

In January, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran brought a private member’s bill - the vagrancy (repeal) bill – to the House of Commons in an attempt to repeal the legislation. A previous attempt to bring the motion last year was blocked by Conservative MPs.

The Labour Party has also committed to repealing the Vagrancy Act if they were in power.