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Vagrancy Act 1824

Vagrancy Act 1824
Long title An Act for the punishment of idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds.
Citation 5 Geo. IV c. 83
Territorial extent England & Wales
Royal Assent 21 June 1824
Commencement in force
Other legislation
Relates to Vagrancy Act 1935 Statute Law Revision Act 1950 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
Status: Current legislation
Text of statute as originally enacted
Text of the Vagrancy Act 1824 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database

The Vagrancy Act 1824 (5 Geo. 4. c. 83) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg. Anyone in England and Wales found to be homeless or to be trying to cadge subsistence money can be arrested.

Contemporary critics, including William Wilberforce, condemned the Act for being a catch-all offence because it did not consider the circumstances as to why an individual might be placed in such a predicament.


  • Background 1
  • Offences 2
  • Current status 3
    • Modern usage 3.1
    • Recent Criticism 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5


The law was enacted to deal with the increasing numbers of homeless and penniless urban poor in England and Wales following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Nine years after the Battle of Waterloo, the British Army and British Navy had undergone a massive reduction in size leaving large numbers of discharged military personnel without jobs or accommodation. Many were living rough on the streets or in makeshift camps. At the same time, a massive influx of economic migrants from Ireland and Scotland arrived in England, especially London, in search of work.

Politicians in the unreformed House of Commons became concerned parish constables were becoming ineffective in controlling these "vagrants". Furthermore the medieval pass laws which gave itinerant travellers the permission of free movement through a given district - were considered to be no longer effective.


Punishment for the wide definition of vagrancy (including prostitution) was up to one month hard labour.[1] The 1824 Act was amended several times, most notably by the Vagrancy Act 1838, which introduced a number of new public order offences that were deemed at the time to be likely to cause moral outrage. It contained the provision for the prosecution of "every Person wilfully exposing to view, in any Street... or public Place, any obscene Print, Picture, or other indecent Exhibition". [2] The Vagrancy Act 1898 prohibited soliciting or importuning for immoral purposes. Originally intended as a measure against prostitution, in practice the legislation was almost solely used to convict men for gay sex.[3] The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1912, which extended provisions of the 1824 Act to Scotland and Ireland, gave further protection to women and girls through the suppression of brothels.[4]

Although the Act originally only applied to England and Wales, Section 4 of the Act, which dealt mainly with vagrancy and begging, was extended to Scotland and Ireland by section 15 of the Prevention of Crimes Act 1871.

Current status

Certain sections of the original Vagrancy Act 1824 remain in force in England and Wales.

In 1982, the entire 1824 Act was repealed in Scotland by the Civic Government (Scotland) Act. Section 18 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 (Ireland) repealed section 4 of the 1824 Act (begging and vagrancy) in Northern Ireland.[5]

Under the Act, discharged military personnel continue to be granted exemption certificates allowing them to appeal for alms under certain circumstances.

Modern usage

Until recently it was believed that the Vagrancy Act 1824 had largely withered away in England through lack of use. However, in recent years the number of homeless people sleeping out has risen, and the use of the Act has increased dramatically, especially in the Metropolitan Police district (most of Greater London).

In 1988, in England and Wales, some 573 people were prosecuted and convicted under the Act. In May 1990, the National Association of Probation Officers carried out a survey of the prosecutions under the 1824 Act. That survey revealed that 1,250 prosecutions had been dealt with in 14 central London magistrates courts in that year, which represented an enormous leap in the number of prosecutions under the 1824 Act, especially in London.

Recent Criticism

In 2014, three men were arrested and charged under the 1824 Vagrancy Act for stealing food that had been put in skips and bins outside of an Iceland store in Kentish Town, North London. Paul May, William James and Jason Chan were due to stand trial after allegedly taking cheese, tomatoes and cakes from bins behind an Iceland shop. The Iceland chain denied any involvement of contacting police, and in a public statement questioned why the CPS felt it was in the public interest to pursue a case against the three individuals. [6] The three men, all of no fixed address, were due to attend a court hearing on 3 February 2014 however prior to the hearing the CPS announced its decision to drop the case, stating that following a review of the case the CPS felt it did not give due weight to the public interest factors tending against prosecution. [7] The Metropolitan Police refused to comment on this decision.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ HC Deb 25 June 1991 c861.
  3. ^
  4. ^ The Law Reform Commission (1985). Report on Vagrancy and Related Offences (Dublin: LRC (Ireland)) p. 6f.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
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