Action against rough sleepers shrouded in mystery

Wednesday, 27 September, 2017

Police and local authority approaches to managing and assisting rough sleepers are shrouded in mystery, our latest briefing has found.

Rough sleeping: enforcement and austerity, published today, examines the use of powers contained in the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, by local authorities and police forces against rough sleepers.

The briefing, written by our Research Director, Roger Grimshaw and our Research Analyst, Matt Ford, is based on Freedom of Information Act requests to police forces and local authorities.

Only one police force out of the 30 that responded to our request confirmed that it had used anti-social behaviour powers against rough sleeping.

None of the 260 councils that responded used formal interventions: in other words, sanctions. The most common intervention used by councils were informal referrals. What happened as a result of these referrals is unknown.

Overall, there was a lack of coherent record keeping over the use of powers. There was also little to no information on the impact of the powers, or the degree to which they had helped, or harmed, the rough sleepers in question.

Dr Roger Grimshaw, one of the authors of the briefing said:

Rough sleepers are an obvious target for interventions aimed at managing public spaces. Every feature of their misery is constantly visible and every sign of discomfort or alienation can be interpreted as inappropriate, indecent or reprehensible.

The big challenge is whether interventions are aimed at addressing their housing and other needs, or geared towards enforcement and coercion.

The lack of consistent and reliable data at a national level on local approaches to rough sleepers makes it impossible to assess these approaches and their likely impact.

Good quality data collection is therefore essential if the public are to be able to assess the performance of police, local authorities and others.