Homeless charity slams government over proposed fines for beggars
Campaigners have criticized the government for offering to continue fining beggars as it consults on replacing an ‘outdated’ law.
Earlier this year the government pledged to repeal the Vagrancy Act – in force since 1824 – which carries fines of up to £1,000 and a criminal record for sleeping rough or begging.
The Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities launched a consultation on Thursday to replace the law, which former Secretary of State Robert Jenrick previously called “outdated”.
But the chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, Matt Downie, said the new proposal – which still includes possible £200 fines for beggars – “doesn’t really move us forward”.
He told the PA news agency: “In our experience it is completely counterproductive and in many cases cruel to fine people for begging.
“And how are they supposed to find the money to pay such fines. It’s still pretty funny.
“So we really don’t think people should be criminalized just for being destitute and beggars – and for us the only time it’s appropriate is if there’s additional harassment or anti-social behavior, in which case the existing legislation fully covers what is needed.
“And so I think the government’s idea of continuing to fine people doesn’t really move us forward on the vagrancy law that they agreed to abolish.”
He said in an earlier statement that we ‘cannot replace punitive legislation with one aimed at people on the streets’ and expressed concern that the proposals were ‘far too broad’ and could lead to this that people are being punished instead of being helped.
“Instead of focusing on measures that could further penalize people on the streets, the government instead needs to look at how it can encourage a multi-agency approach.”
The consultation paper highlights two case studies which it says describe how fines are ‘ineffective deterrent’ and can be ‘counterproductive’, with many police forces only seeking to use the current law as a ‘last resort’, but continue to offer the lesser £200 fine.
The fine, he said, could be retained in the new legislation as the maximum penalty for “minor begging offences”.
He added that serious offences, including those involving exploitation, may require harsher penalties.
Types of harmful begging specified in the consultation include persistent begging, or begging in places such as transport hubs, business entrances, ATMs, or when approaching stopped cars in traffic , as well as fraudulent begging, more than one person begging in an organized network. manner or begging involving exploitation and coercion.
Housing and Housing Minister Eddie Hughes MP said: ‘No one should be criminalized just because they have nowhere to live, and it’s right that we repeal the outdated Housing Act vagrancy.
“We need to balance our role of providing essential support to vulnerable people with ensuring we don’t weaken the ability of the police to protect communities.”