Open Letter to the Daily Telegraph

Dear Will Lewis,

I work for the Advisory Service for Squatters. Its a shame your reporter Nick Allen didnt pick up the phone to contact us while working on his story, published on Saturday 21st, under the headline Squatters’ right to lists of homes lying empty. Our number is readily available on our website, and the office was staffed on Friday afternoon from two until six, as it is every weekday it would have taken him a moment to call us before our story was put online on Friday evening, and into yesterdays paper.

If he had given us an opportunity to respond, as the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct suggests he should, we could have told him that the freedom of information request which elicited the list of empty homes in Lambeth was not made on behalf of our collective. It is not something we have been using, or even, as far as I know, keep in our office. The request was made by a man who is working to place pressure on local authorities to do more to combat the twin problems of homelessness and empty housing, which are rife across

London and the country. Because squatting is an obvious and legal – solution to these issues, he has also done some work with the ASS, and the ASS supports his campaigns. But the request was not made by or on behalf of the ASS.

The story also fails to point out that the list was sent out in 2008 rendering the line It has left officials in Lambeth, south

London, panicking that hundreds of empty homes will be invaded by squatters in the coming weeks alarmist nonsense.

Simply recycling what seems to have been a Lib Dem press release without even pausing to check its accuracy, let alone to consider whether there is actually a more interesting story in the background, is lazy, sloppy journalism.

If Nick Allen had phoned us, we could not only have corrected his facts, we could perhaps have pointed him towards some statistics which cast the issue in a different light. We are confident that the list issued by Lambeth Council of 800 empty buildings significantly underestimates the real number. Government research from January shows that there were then 1,025 empty COUNCIL OWNED flats, not including swathes of buildings left empty by other government bodies, large companies and private individuals (which Lambeth Council is in a position to bring back into use as housing using the empty dwelling management orders introduced by the government in 2006). Across

London as a whole, a recent survey by the GMB union shows that 82,000 houses are left empty approximately a tenth of the national total.

And meanwhile, tens of thousands of individuals and families are homeless or badly housed. In Lambeth alone, more than 17,000 households are on the waiting list for council housing. And those are only the people the council has acknowledged its duty to house thousands more are living in overcrowded flats, sleeping on sofas at friends and families houses or yes squatting.

When houses are sitting empty and people are living in rotten, overpriced, overcrowded accommodation, it is an unreflective, knee-jerk response to demonise them for cutting to the chase and using some of the woefully underused buildings you can see in every street in the country, and which you hardly need a list to spot.

Squatting isnt an easy way to get by very few of us squatters live this way out of any desire to disrupt our neighbours lives, or a perverse enjoyment of what is an insecure, sometimes dangerous, often uncomfortable way of life. But, confronted by tens of thousands of empty homes, which the Lambeth Council list merely scratches the surface of, and no better option to house ourselves, its a solution that makes some sort of sense.

Had the ASS in fact requested the list, we would stand by that decision it is our right, as members of the public, to have it. It is a shame, however, that Allen didnt phone us to correct that inaccuracy. Its a greater shame he chose to write a myopic story on an important issue.

Best,
Kath Hibbert