Should the homeless be protected by hate crime law?

Posted on 27th October 2020

Homelessness: The Protect, Punish or Prevent series

The Law Commission has recently published a review of hate crimes that proposes to include offences against homeless people. At Hodge Jones & Allen we wholeheartedly agree with this.

Hate crimes are acts of violence or hostility directed at people because of who they are and the crime is considered more serious as a result. The law currently provides protection to just five protected characteristics:

  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • transgender status

Whilst the review proposes a number of different protected characteristics to be afforded protection, this blog will be limited to considering the homeless. By using credible sources and figures to support the need for affording hate crime protection to the homeless, the review makes for a shocking read.

From a legal perspective it is interesting to note that homelessness has not been limited to its legal/statutory definition as contained within s.175 Housing Act 1996, the Law Commission has instead adopted the wider approach used by the charity Crisis by describing three different types of homelessness – rough sleeping (those on the street), statutory homelessness (those who lack a secure place in which they are entitled to live or reasonably able to stay) and hidden homelessness (those who are either not entitled to or have any assistance from their local authority).

The review recognises that incidents of crime against the homeless have not been recorded by the police, and instead considers a number of sources for statistical analysis, including a Crisis report (2016) that published rough sleepers’ experiences of criminal targeting. From the 458 people surveyed, the report found:

  • Overall ¾ had experienced anti-social and criminal behaviour when homeless
  • 30% of rough sleepers reported being deliberately hit or kicked
  • 45% had been threatened or intimidated with (potential) violence
  • 31% had experienced things being thrown at them
  • 6% disclosed that they had been sexually assaulted
  • 7% said they had been urinated on
  • 51%, reported having had things stolen from them
  • 20% had their belongings deliberately damaged or vandalised
  • 56% had experienced some form of verbal abuse or harassment

The review then considers research from St Mungo’s that found that of the 97 people who died while sleeping rough in England in 2011-2016, almost a quarter experienced a violent death.

Further, a study by Revolving Doors Agency (2019) reported that of the 25 out of 26 people who moved from the streets into supported accommodation, had been a victim of crime since they began sleeping rough. They found that victimisation was not only more frequent but also far more serious among people sleeping rough. This included 15 people being physically assaulted, including being deliberately hit, kicked, or strangled on the streets; and 8 reported being held at gun or knife point.

The review also refers to an investigation from the Guardian that asked all police forces in the UK how many attacks against the homeless they had recorded in the past five years. Whilst most did not record the information, data from nine forces in the UK found there were 4,940 attacks recorded against people described in police records as homeless, having no fixed abode or rough sleeping in the past five years, increasing from 493 in 2014 to 1,259 in 2018. Cases include murder, modern slavery and serious assault.

The review also recognises that some US jurisdictions treat homelessness as a protected characteristic for the purposes of hate crime laws, demonstrating that this protection can be successfully implemented into law.

It is our experience at Hodge Jones & Allen that the homeless are deprived of the very basic protection of having a home and are more likely to be targeted for being homeless and accordingly as a minimum we consider that offences against the homeless ought to be protected by hate crime law.

The Law Commission is inviting responses from professionals and those who have been affected by hate crimes; following which, they will publish a report for the attention of Government to consider whether the law should be extended to the homeless.

In light of this vulnerability and victimisation of the homeless and our position that they ought to be protected by criminal law, we shall consider in our next blog whether the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes homelessness in itself a criminal offence, needs to be repealed.

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