The last two and a half years have been extremely hard for people squatting in England and Wales. Due to section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (s144 LASPOA), almost 600 young homeless people have been arrested by the police, and at least 200 prosecuted for the offence of sheltering themselves in empty and unused buildings.
In 2013, Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) released “The Case Against Section 144”, a six month review of the effects of s144 LASPOA since it came into effect in 2012. The report found s144 LASPOA to be Unjust, Undemocratic, Unnecessary, and Unaffordable, and predicted that it would adversely affect the most vulnerable in society. SQUASH has just released its latest report “Homes, Not Jails” (April 2015), a 28-month review of the effects of s144 LASPOA using freedom of information data and case studies. The report has found that for the period September 2012 to January 2015:
· There have been at least 588 arrests, 200 prosecutions and 51 convictions under s144 LASPOA, with 75% of those arrests occurring in London.
· Case studies and statistics show that the police use s144 LASPOA in an arbitrary manner, to summarily evict people suspected of squatting, without sufficient evidence.
· Those prosecuted have been men and women, aged between 21 and 41. This is the exact demographic that is taking the brunt of Britain’s current housing crisis in the form of PRS evictions, welfare cuts, and exclusion from affordable housing options.
· Most evictions and arrests under s144 LASPOA occurred during the Winter months (October – March), endangering the lives and well-being of those thrown out into the freezing cold. The case of 35-year old homeless man, Daniel Gauntlett, who died in February 2013 from hypothermia, shows what can happen.
· Throughout, there have been calls by politicians on the right and left, as well mainstream media outlets, to extend the criminalisation of squatting to commercial buildings, which threatens to create housing instability for many more young people.
The “Homes, Not Jails” report (6-pages) and the supporting evidence Appendix (55-pages) can be found by visiting the SQUASH website:
SQUASH are concerned that s144 LASPOA is criminalising the homeless, and detrimentally affecting the quality of life for many thousands of people. We are therefore calling for s144 LASPOA to be repealed, and an end to illegal and unlawful evictions. Squatting must return to being a civil matter, because the police and magistrates are not equipped to deal with questions of possession and property law.