Media Information

So you?re working on
a story / show / film about squatting and you?d like to ask us some questions,
eh?  Here are a few answers to get
started with…

  • What is the Advisory Service for
    Squatters?

 The ASS has been giving legal and practical advice to squatters
and homeless people since 1975.  We are a
collective of squatters and ex-squatters who volunteer to keep our office open
five days a week.  We have never received
any government funding, and are kept afloat by donations, and by benefits
organised by squatters and housing activists.

 We focus on giving people legal advice: explaining the laws
which govern squatting and helping them to defend themselves in civil
courts.  We also help people get the
housing help they may be entitled to from local authorities, whose housing
departments often have a deliberate policy of ?gatekeeping? ? fobbing off
people who are actually entitled to council help in order to minimise their
homelessness statistics. 

  • How come it?s legal to live in someone
    else?s building?

 Squatting is legal because trespassing is not a crime in
English and Welsh law.  Trespassing is a
civil issue, a dispute about who has the right to the land or property, to be
settled between two individuals in a civil court.  It has nothing to do with the criminal
law. 

 Squatters also rely on section six of the Criminal Justice
Act 1977, which makes it a criminal offence for anyone to break into a squat or
any other home as long as someone is inside who is opposed to their entry.  The
police have no more power to enter a squat than any other home.

  • What?s to stop squatters setting up
    home in my house while I?m away on holiday?

 

Squatters only occupy empty properties.  If squatters ever attempted to move into a
house which did, in fact, have an occupier, it would be a crime ? not a civil
matter ? not to leave as soon as the occupier asked them to.  The police would attend, and the squatter
would risk arrest.  This includes
situations where the owner is on holiday, is away on business for several
months at a stretch, or uses the building only as a second home. 

 Occupied homes being squatted is almost exclusively a media
fantasy: no squatter in their right mind would do it.

  • How many squatters are there?

 The Advisory Service for Squatters does not collect statistics
on the number of squatters in the UK. Most squatters never make contact with us, and those that do normally
only do so when they have problems.

 Homelessness charity Crisis estimated that there were 20,000
squatters in the UK
in 2002, but their report acknowledged that the true figure was hard to gauge
because many squatters are self-sufficient and undisruptive, and therefore off
the radar of social services, charities and the police.

  • Who are they?

 There is no such thing as a typical squatter ? the huge variety
of people who come through our office prove that this is an impossible question
to answer.   All that squatters have in common is that they
need a home, and see squatting as the best solution under their particular
circumstances.

  • Why are they squatting?

 People are motivated to squat by a combination of simple
need for space and shelter, and a desire to resist a system that allows
property to lie empty while there is social need for it.  The balance varies between people and from
time to time. 

 Every squatter will have decided that living in a disused
building that doesn?t belong to them, with the insecurity, need for regular
house moves and DIY work that entails, is the best option for them. 

 Although squatting is hard work, by doing it many of us have
learned a whole range of skills we probably wouldn?t otherwise ?everything from
housing law to plumbing and fixing roofs ? as well as finding a solution to our
lack of decent, affordable housing. 

 Squatting demands self-reliance, recycling and the ability
do useful things with little or no money. Squatters have to do this collectively and in collaboration with a wide
range of other people.  Many of us like
these aspects of our lifestyles, and believe that these are important skills
and approaches which, if more widely adopted, could help in the housing and
economic crisis we currently face. 

  • Aren?t squatters just disruptive,
    feckless layabouts?

 No one is saying all squatters are perfect, but neither are
tenants or home owners.  Anti-social
owner-occupiers don?t have to feel inhibited about irritating their neighbours
as it won?t affect their housing security. Squatters, on the other hand, have a greater incentive than anyone else
to be nice to their neighbours, as a few complaints will soon get them
evicted.  The huge majority of squatters
regard their temporary accommodation as ?homes?, and treat them as such.

 Neighbouring tenants or owner-occupiers often write letters
and raise petitions against the eviction of squatters because they usually feel
much safer living near an occupied house or flat than an empty and derelict
one, which can make the whole neighbourhood seem blighted.  Unfortunately, these petitions don?t cut any
ice in court cases to evict squatters, and are rarely acknowledged by the
media.  Horror stories are, after all,
far more fun to write and read.

  • Aren?t squatters just selfish people
    jumping the housing queue? 

 No.  Squatters try to
avoid moving into housing that is set to be rented out, for the same reason
that they avoid moving into occupied homes. If a would-be tenant is prevented from moving in to a flat or house by
squatters, it is a crime for the squatters not to leave when asked.  Squatters move into buildings which would
continue to sit empty otherwise ? there are hundreds of thousands of such
properties across the country, as research by the Empty Homes Agency (www.emptyhomes.com)
shows.

 Is squatting a solution to the housing
shortage?

 Bringing empty homes back into use would be a partial
solution to the housing crisis.  There
are almost a million empty homes in the UK, according to the Empty Homes
Agency.  Many of them have been sitting
empty for years, whilst falling into disrepair and blighting
neighbourhoods. 

 Local authority powers to bring buildings back into use are
very rarely used ? since Empty Dwelling Management Orders came into use in
2006, introduced as a means by which councils could re-use empty houses, they
have only been applied to 17 buildings, according to the Empty Homes Agency. 

 At the same time, almost 2 million households are
languishing on council waiting lists, and hundreds of thousands of people are
among what housing charity Shelter calls the ?hidden homeless?, staying on
friends floors and sofas, or in hostels or bed and breakfasts.  And millions of people struggle to pay the
rent or the mortgage on low wages.

 As long as homes continue to sit empty while others are
inadequately housed, squatting will be a solution for at least some people.

  • Has squatting increased since the onset
    of the credit crunch and the crash in the property market?

 Neither we nor any other group regularly collects statistics
on the number of squatters in the UK, so changes are hard to
quantify. 

 It may well be that a growing number of people are considering
becoming squatters. Statistics from the Empty Homes Agency show that the number
of empty buildings is on the increase, and will soon reach 1m homes, due to
repossessions, bankrupt businesses and stalled redevelopment programmes.  And simultaneously it?s statistically clear
that more and more people are being pushed into poverty as the economy
tanks. 

 But many squatters are as much victims of the previous
property boom as the current credit crunch, and the overwhelming majority of
squatters are people who have never been or even had any chance of being
anywhere near the housing ladder.  Profiteering
through the gentrification of previously affordable areas and through the
continuing privatisation of council housing stock had already pushed thousands
of people into housing crises in which squatting is the only sensible solution. 

 Can you introduce me to some squatters
to interview?

 Probably not; most squatters value privacy.  But we have a notice board in our office on
which we can display interview requests if you email us a brief outline of what
you?re looking for.  And most members of
the ASS collective are squatters, so may be prepared to answer some questions
about the details of their own lives. Again, the best course is to send an email with details of exactly what
you?d like to talk about. 

  • Can I photograph a squat?

 Again, we?re unlikely to be able to help you with that, but
you?re welcome to put a note on our notice board. 

  • Got any more questions?

 Give us a ring or drop us an email ? 020 3216 0099 or

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  The office is open from two til six every
weekday.