Rough sleeping is often associated with activities like begging, street drinking, substance misuse and other antisocial behaviour, and these can have a negative impact on the wider community.

Not all people experiencing rough sleeping engage in these activities. Surveys undertaken by us and the St Mungo’s outreach team have found a proportion of people on our streets who beg or consume drink or drugs in the street are not in fact homeless.

Street homelessness is dangerous, frightening and isolating. People experiencing rough sleeping are more likely to be victims of crime and exploitation and are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general public. A quarter of women experiencing rough sleeping have been sexually assaulted while sleeping on the streets.

This is how we approach some of the issues arising from rough sleeping.

Support to businesses

As people experiencing rough sleeping often bed down in shop and office doorways, many city centre businesses encounter rough sleeping on a daily basis. A number of our community services teams provide support to businesses around rough sleeping. This includes:

  • speaking to people experiencing rough sleeping and assessing the situation
  • advising businesses what their rights and responsibilities are
  • providing contact details for support services
  • reporting locations where people are sleeping rough to the outreach team
  • liaising with the outreach team and Thames Valley Police as necessary
  • ongoing advice and support

Antisocial behaviour

We are committed to tackling antisocial behaviour. This is defined as “behaviour by a person that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the person". It covers a wide range of unacceptable activity that blights the lives of many people on a daily basis. It often leaves victims feeling helpless, desperate and with a seriously reduced quality of life. 

Working with partners including the police and St Mungo’s outreach, we tackle begging, drug-related criminality, street drinking and other forms of antisocial behaviour, while recognising the additional challenges of addressing the behaviour of people with complex needs. Identification and consideration of a person’s specific circumstances, including their safeguarding and support needs, are an integral part of our approach. We seek to ensure our interventions are reasonable and proportionate, whilst tackling behaviours that are detrimental to the individual and wider public.

Serving Community Protection Notices (CPNs)

We will not serve a CPN on somebody just because they are sleeping rough or are homeless.

Where necessary, we use powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to issue Community Protection Notices (CPNs) in response to actions taken that present a hazard or risk to the community or antisocial behaviour that spoils its quality of life – for example, repeatedly leaving items that block fire escapes.

There have been individuals experiencing rough sleeping behaving in ways that meet the legal test for being antisocial (and consistent with the requirements of serving a CPN) - because it is unreasonable, persistent, and has a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the locality. Nonetheless, our position is clear in that we are intent on meeting our duties to support those sleeping rough to be able to get off the streets - whatever their behaviour - through the support and resources we provide.

Abandoned belongings

Sometimes belongings are abandoned on public land, including sleeping bags, clothes and other personal possessions. We will only remove these if they appear obviously abandoned, there is a public health risk, they are causing an obstruction or if the owner tells us they no longer want them.

If belongings are left in the street and are not being cared for – for instance, they are strewn around rather than placed together – or are placed against a bin, we will treat them as litter and dispose of them. We also treat soaked and ruined bedding as litter.

Removal of sharps and needles

We will always remove sharps and dispose of them safely. You can report discarded needles and syringes on our website.

Storage of abandoned belongings

Unless there is an immediate public health risk or items are identified as litter, we will monitor abandoned items for 48 hours before removing them. We will store them for five working days before disposing of them, and notify the police and outreach teams of their location.

Complaints about abandoned belongings that have been taken

If you think anyone has had their property taken in breach of our policy, we will always investigate this if you can provide details of where, when and what property has been taken.

Make a complaint

Public health

Confiscation and destruction of tents or other personal possessions is not and never will be part of our approach for reducing rough sleeping. However, there are circumstances under which we are required to act to remove items. Environmental protection legislation means we have a duty to investigate what are known as “statutory nuisances”. These are activities which are – or are likely to be – a nuisance which poses a threat to health.

In cases of statutory nuisance, we speak to people first. If the behaviour continues, or no-one can be found, we have a duty to issue abatement notices. An abatement notice requires whoever is responsible to stop or limit an activity to avoid causing a nuisance. It can include specific actions to reduce the problem.

Unless there is a statutory nuisance, we do not have the power to remove people's belongings on private property. This includes shop and office doorways.


Regardless of who owns the land, we still have a duty to investigate statutory nuisances. These include encampments without access to sanitation.

We always try to engage with people experiencing rough sleeping wherever they are - whether they are in tents or not. This includes advising them on how they can access accommodation and other support services. We encourage private landowners to do the same.

In a number of cases, we have removed tents that were no longer being used as sleep sites and that were being used as somewhere to take class-A drugs. We have done this where a tent does not contain bedding and there are sharps inside or in the immediate area. We will also remove tents that have been left in clearly abandoned encampments.

Where people experiencing rough sleeping camp on private land, we don’t require landowners to evict them. It is a landowner’s responsibility to take action against unauthorised camping.

Byelaws in parks and public spaces

In line with much of England, byelaws ban the pitching of tents in Oxford except in approved campsites. Landowners need a licence to operate a permanent campsite and campsites must include access to sanitation.

If people are camping in public parks and open spaces we manage, we inform them that they need to move on and how to access local support services. If they do not, we can issue abatement notices which give us the power to lift and store possessions, including tents.

More information and how to help

We believe that everybody has a responsibility to help end rough sleeping.

Our vision is that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford, and we have a multi-agency approach to helping people in need on our streets. We work with a range of partners to provide the accommodation and support needed to achieve this, and to prevent people from returning to the streets.

Many people experiencing rough sleeping have complex needs including substance dependencies and mental health issues. One of the most challenging areas of work for our officers and our partners is trying to engage with and support them while reducing the impact on the wider public of some of their behaviours.

Rate this page