Leading charities are warning that proposals to make squatting a
criminal offence risk dragging some of the country’s most vulnerable
people through the justice system.
A letter from the charity Crisis and endorsed by the Big Issue Foundation challenges the media image that squatting is largely a lifestyle choice popular with middle class dropouts.
points out that almost 40% of homeless people resort to squatting at
some point, and that of these more than half have been to prison, 20%
are alcohol-dependent and more than a third have mental health problems.
The letter, which is backed by other organisations working with
homeless people and ex-offenders, will be sent to the government next
The proposal to criminalise squatting in England and Wales ? as is already the case in Scotland ? was announced by David Cameron on Tuesday as part of his wider toughening of criminal justice measures.
lot of the debate is coloured by media headlines about people squatting
from a lifestyle choice in these large mansions,” said Katharine
Sacks-Jones, head of policy at Crisis. “What we really want to make sure
ministers are aware of is that there’s a large proportion of squatters
who are very vulnerable people who are squatting because they simply
don’t have another choice. This law would be criminalising very, very
vulnerable people, and I don’t think anyone wants to see that. It’s
counter-productive. It’s not going to address the underlying problems
that these people face: that there’s a lack of housing.”
representing squatters say that while precise numbers are hard to
establish, the government’s estimate of 20,000 squatters throughout the
UK is likely to be a significant underestimate.
The recession means squatters now include families who cannot meet mortgage payments, they say.
“This is essentially criminalising homelessness in the middle of a housing crisis, which is completely crazy,” said Paul Reynolds, from Squatters Action for Secure Homes.
“People who are at the raw end of a lot of other social policy end up
squatting as it’s the one form of self help open to them. They can make
use of an unused resource ? an empty building which they look after.
When the owner wants to get rid of them it’s a very cheap and simple
The notion that a law change is needed to protect
families from having their homes taken over, for example when they are
on holiday, is nonsense, he said. Such actions are already crimes under a 1977 law protecting “displaced residential occupiers” or intended occupiers.
someone squats your home, you’re legally entitled to break back in and
remove them using reasonable force,” he said. “This new law is designed,
as far as we can tell, to protect property speculators, people who own
long-term empty commercial properties which they’re often quite happy to
let fall into disrepair.”
Squatters invariably improve the
properties in which they live, he added: “Pretty much every squat I’ve
been to has had lots of work done. If someone’s living there they make
it a home. A lot of landlords realise this and they don’t mind.”
Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We are determined that those who
enter and occupy people’s property should be punished, which is why we
will shortly be consulting on criminalising squatting. Our housing
strategy, which will be published later this year, will tackle the issue
of persistent homelessness by setting out our approach to creating more
affordable housing, while reducing the numbers of vacant properties.”
“I started work. I would find things in
skips: doors, floorboards, window frames, a bath. It took years to have
amenities you could regard as functional. My first water was a garden
hose from the ground floor. I learned a lot. When you’re not a
professional things don’t always work out. I built about seven kitchens ?
they got better all the time and moved around the house.
“It’s very dangerous just to point fingers. There’s all
kinds of squatters. There are freeloaders ? I know all about this; at
one point I had someone living on my bathroom floor for two months ? but
there’s freeloaders everywhere. There’s no reason to destroy it all for
the sake of a few people.”