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Home Secretary Suella Braverman wants to restrict use of tents by homeless

Tent on street in Belgravia, London
Tent on street in Belgravia, London

The home secretary is proposing new laws to restrict the use of tents by homeless people, arguing that many of them see it as a "lifestyle choice".

Suella Braverman's plan would introduce new penalties in England and Wales for homeless people whom authorities believe have rejected offers of help.

The plan was to stop "those who cause nuisance... by pitching tents in public spaces," she said.

Housing charity Shelter said: "Nobody should be punished for being homeless".

The plan is expected to be included in the King's speech on Tuesday, which sets out the government's legislative agenda and is expected to focus heavily on law and order.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ms Braverman said: "Nobody in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets. There are options for people who don't want to be sleeping rough."

She said the government would always support those who are genuinely homeless, but added: "We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice."

She added: "What I want to stop, and what the law-abiding majority wants us to stop, is those who cause nuisance and distress to other people by pitching tents in public spaces, aggressively begging, stealing, taking drugs, littering and blighting our communities."

Unless action is taken, she said, "British cities will go the way of places in the US like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where weak policies have led to an explosion of crime, drug taking and squalor."

According to the Financial Times, the proposals are designed to replace elements of the 1824 Vagrancy Act.

The paper reported that sources had said the plans being considered were for two clauses to be inserted in the new criminal justice bill, which applies to England and Wales. This would target tents that cause a nuisance - such as by obstructing shop doorways.

According to the report, the proposals include creating a civil offence whereby charities could be fined for handing out tents if they were deemed to have caused a nuisance.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said: "Living on the streets is not a lifestyle choice."

She added: "Homelessness happens when housing policy fails and boils down to people not being able to afford to live anywhere.

"Private rents are at an all-time high, evictions are rising and the cost of living crisis continues."

Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner added that the government should take responsibility for the housing crisis, rather than blame homeless people.

"A toxic mix of rising rents and a failure to end no-fault evictions are hitting vulnerable people, yet after years of delay the Tories still haven't kept their promises to act," she said.

The Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said it was "grim politics" to "criminalise homeless charities for simply trying to keep vulnerable people warm and dry in winter".

He added: "This policy will do nothing to stop rough sleeping and will leave vulnerable people to face the harsh weather conditions without any shelter whatsoever."

London mayor Sadiq Khan described the proposal as "deeply depressing".

"The government should be investing more in social housing, uplifting housing benefit rates and banning no-fault evictions," he wrote on X.