Criminalising Youth Homelessness research report

  • Author: Frankiebo Taylor, Senior Policy and Research Officer and Dr Thomas Kerridge, Policy and Research Manager
  • Reading time: 3 minutes

For years, homelessness organisations, local authorities, police forces and other interested parties have campaigned for the Vagrancy Act to be abolished. 

These campaigns were successful and, in early 2022, the government committed to repealing the Vagrancy Act as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. However, the Government now plans to replace the Vagrancy Act with new legislation, the Criminal Justice Bill, within which laws restricting rough sleeping are prominent. 

This research examines how Government legislation is being, and may be, used to criminalise young people who are rough sleeping. In doing this, we examine Freedom of Information Request data delineating how the Vagrancy Act has affected young people and explore interview and survey data highlighting the extent to which young people are criminalised by measures such as Public Space Protection Orders. Through this lens, we then analyse the potential impact of the Criminal Justice Bill on young people experiencing homelessness.

Key findings

  • Police constabularies across England have used the Vagrancy Act to arrest 16 – 25 year olds 620 times since 2019/20. This number represents 25 per cent of all Vagrancy Act arrests (2444 in total) over the last four financial years. 
  • Young people aged 16 – 25 constituted one third of all arrests under the Vagrancy Act by the Metropolitan Police Service (705 total arrests). In London, however, CHAIN stats show that young people consistently make up around 10 per cent of rough sleepers.
  • Public Space Protection Orders provide local authorities with significant powers to criminalise young people experiencing homelessness, enabling them to move them on from city centres and populated areas and away from invaluable sources of support.


  • To prevent the criminalisation of rough sleeping: the Home Office should exclude all provisions related to rough sleeping from the Criminal Justice Bill. This would ensure that homeless young people are not criminalised for rough sleeping and do not face greater barriers to accessing housing and support in the future. 
  • To support young people experiencing rough sleeping: the Home Office should amend the Criminal Justice Bill to include provisions obligating agencies to provide support to rough sleepers. This will require increased funding for homelessness outreach and support services, with a particular focus on services with expertise in supporting young people.
  • To end rough sleeping: the Government must provide adequate funding to local authorities and other agencies to address the causes of and prevent rough sleeping – particularly at a young age. This must include investment in: youth specific emergency bed spaces for rough sleepers; social housing, with a focus on one bedroom social housing accessed by single people; and guaranteed support for homeless people when they first present to their local authority as homeless or at risk of homelessness.