We would like to respond to your article of March 5th, which contains a number of factual errors. We would be grateful if you could correct these errors, giving the corrections as much prominence as the original article, as per the PCC code of conduct.
Firstly, the headline ? ?Professional agencies marketing empty homes to potential SQUATTERS? – is misleading and inaccurate. Your article refers to only one organisation, the Advisory Service for Squatters. ASS is not professional, and nor is it an agency. Neither the organisation not any of the members make any money out of the work that is done. We are a collective of volunteers offering advice to the homeless and vulnerably housed, and have been in existence for 36 years. We are hardly news.
Second, ASS does not ?market? property. A notice board with a variety of information placed by those who use our service ? also including details of, for instance, missing people, does not amount to marketing. As your article states the Squatters Handbook stresses the need for research, rather than expecting to find an appropriate property from a notice board, list or forum.
For the heading to reflect the article it should say something like ?voluntary organization offers advice to squatters and other homeless and insecurely housed people?. We?re proud to do so.
There are implications in the URL of the internet version of the article (which ends ?Squatters-Inc-As-professional-agencies-MARKET-vacant-family-homes-break-beware-going-holiday?) and the strange question about whether someone would be happy for their front room to be squatted that perpetuate the false idea that squatters can occupy people?s homes.
If a property is in use as a home it can not legally be squatted ? Section 7 of the 1977 Criminal Justice Act makes this very clear. If a squatter displaces a residential occupier, or prevents an intending occupier from moving in, they are committing a criminal offence and must leave or risk arrest and prosecution.
ASS is always clear in our advice on this matter ? squatters can only house themselves in genuinely empty properties, and we encourage squatters to find properties that have been empty for some time. The ?visitor? sent by the Daily Mail was specifically told to look for a property ?in an advanced state of disrepair?. There are some 500,000 such abandoned houses across the UK, about 1.5% of the total housing stock ? a scandal at a time of housing shortage. Your article is highly likely to create unnecessary alarm among homeowners for whom squatting is no threat. Worse, it could well mislead potential squatters, encouraging them to harm homeowners and also to criminalize themselves.
It is not possible to get legal aid to defend a claim of trespass, unless there is some other argument that could be won by the defendants. This is true for everyone, even those from Eastern Europe, who are in any case less likely to be entitled to legal aid. Either the case you refer to is more complicated than you have been told or you have misunderstood.
Much of the report on the visit to our office is twisted and taken out of context. The visitor was advised on legal and practical matters, having pretended to be impoverished and homeless. She lied about everything including her name, yet our volunteers are termed ?coy? for only giving their first name. On this particular occasion the volunteer was not even asked for any other name. Your reporter was told that a court had recently found that changing a lock should not be considered criminal damage, and was shown how to do it, rather than pay someone else. The misrepresentation of our volunteer staffing the office on that day is particularly offensive.
We look forward to seeing these corrections published in your paper in due course. Should you fail to do so within a fortnight, we will take this matter up with the PCC. We at the ASS are always happy to provide commentary on housing issues, and would be happy to give your reporters a background briefing on the laws relating to squatting, so that they can report accurately in future.
Advisory Service for Squatters