Homeless charities have said that police should not use anti-social behaviour powers against rough sleepers after a local authority leader called for legal action to be taken to remove homeless people from Windsor before the royal wedding in May.
Conservative councillor Simon Dudley said “an epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy” in Windsor was causing concern and could present “a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light” when Prince Harry marries American actress Meghan Markle later this year.
In a letter sent this week to the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner, he suggested that the 1824 Vagrancy Act and the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act should be used against rough sleepers and people begging on the streets.
Mr Dudley also tweeted that the royal wedding “will focus minds. Due to tourism, Windsor is different and requires a more robust approach to begging”.
He also claimed that people begging for money were “marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash”.
Thames Valley police tweeted in reply: “We deal with reports of begging proportionately but we have not had reports of anyone being marched to cashpoints to take out money.”
The police also said: “We need to protect the most vulnerable in society by working together but each agency must understand its own unique responsibilities. Housing is the responsibility of the council but it is better that agencies work together so people don’t become homeless.”
Charities working with homeless people said recourse to the law was not the answer and local authorities should instead provide help and advice.
“Stigmatising or punishing [rough sleepers] is totally counterproductive,” said Greg Beales of Shelter. “People sleeping on the street were often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and even violence.
“They desperately need our help, support and advice to move off the streets into safety and, eventually, into a home.”
Paul Noblet of Centrepoint said: “Begging and rough sleeping are two distinct issues, and it is not helpful to conflate the two.
“The best way to help rough sleepers is to get them off the streets and into an environment where they can access the long-term support they need.”
Under the Vagrancy Act it is a criminal offence to sleep rough or beg while the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act replaced antisocial behaviour orders with criminal behaviour orders.
New guidance on the use of the Act was issued on Christmas Eve to ensure the most vulnerable people, including rough sleepers, are not disproportionately targeted when councils take appropriate action against nuisance behaviours.