For media (and others)

FACTS ABOUT SQUATTING IN ENGLAND AND WALES for media and others

SQUATTING MEANS OCCUPYING EMPTY PROPERTY, TO LIVE IN OR FOR OTHER USES

ASS, and others, estimate that there are at least 20,000 squatters in England and Wales. A large proportion are in London and probably 60% are in residential properties.

All the properties occupied by squatters were previously empty. It was already a crime before 1st September not move out of a property at the request of someone who had been living in the property themselves, or who had a right and need to be living there.

Most squatted property, and most property in general, is owned by institutions; companies, councils, speculators, banks who had repossessed them……

Squatters do not squat people’s homes.

Many landlords think that tenants and sub-tenants are squatters because they no longer want them in the property. Tenants and sub-tenants have more rights than squatters, although very few compared to the rest of Europe.

Many squatters have been living in their homes as part of their communities for many years, looking after buildings which would otherwise have fallen down, attracted pests, become dangerous…..

EMPTY PROPERTIES

According to the Empty Homes Agency there are 720,000 empty properties in England.

ASS believe that empty properties should be requisitioned and put to use by those that are in need of them. Squatting is the most direct form of requisitioning, but also often the most insecure.

THE LAW

Until the 1st September 2012 squatting was basically covered by civil law. Unless the property was in fact someone’s home, anyone claiming a right to the property had to show this in court before they could get an order for eviction. The law was tightened up against squatters in 1977 and 1994, both after media campaigns claiming that people’s homes were squatted while they were out. These proved to be false.

These law changes left the position as predominantly a civil matter because it was felt that neither the police nor landowners understood the complexities of land and housing rights. Police in Camden have decided that a licence isn’t valid if it hasn’t been witnessed by a solicitor, when a judge had adjourned the matter for further enquiry.

The new law will criminalise thousands of people at a stroke. This is a poorly defined, wide ranging and ill considered law. The Coalition’s equivalent of the Dangerous Dogs Act has been rushed through parliament with as little process as possible, and will come into effect with no guidance on how it will be enforced. The consultation response received by the Ministry of Justice under a year ago showed that along with 95% of responses, neither the Law Society, Criminal Bar Association nor the Metropolitan Police supported this law change.

It makes no sense to criminalise squatters. People who are already vulnerable will either become criminals or will be forced to move onto the streets. A government that has committed to reducing spending will see a rise in demand for housing benefit and increased spending on public services corresponding to homeless individuals no longer being able to provide for themselves and instead being dependent on already strained public services and charities.

SQUATTING IS STILL LEGAL in non-residential property. The new law also excludes people who have been given a licence to stay there (by someone with a right to do so) and those who are not living in the property. It is not clear how the police intend to work their way through these complexities, and ASS hope they will use caution rather than require court action against them.

Squatting happens all over the world, whether it is legal or not. When there are empty properties and people needing them, there will be squatting.