Leading homelessness charities have made an unprecedented joint plea to UK ministers to reconsider the police and crime bill, warning it could in effect criminalise large numbers of people simply for being homeless.
In a letter to Robert Jenrick, the housing and communities secretary, seen by the Guardian, 13 charities and housing groups said urgent changes were needed to the bill to avoid the risk of people being arrested and imprisoned for sleeping rough.
It said: “As currently drafted, the legislation risks putting any person who resorts to living in a car, van or other vehicle – or indeed has a vehicle parked near where they may be sleeping rough – at risk of arrest and imprisonment if they have been asked to leave by the landowner or police.
“While this could apply in rural areas it could also apply in city-centre car parks, a public road or private driveway. Many people experiencing homelessness sleep in cars, or in tents with their vehicle nearby, such as people who have work vehicles, eg for delivery driving.
“We recognise that the government has said it does not intend for these people to be caught by the offence but ask for clarification to the bill to ensure this.”
The letter also calls for further details on the meaning of the bill of “residing” in terms of allowing police to take action if this is done without the permission of the landowner.
“Case law concerning residential tenancies suggests that a person can only be considered to ‘reside’ if they have settled or intend to settle in a place, not if they were compelled to stay there on an emergency or short-term basis,” the organisations said. “People who are street homeless have to sleep somewhere.”
They told Jenrick: “We are pleased to be working with you on your commitment to end rough sleeping for good and are concerned this legislation would make that goal harder.”