Since the introduction of the new anti-squatting legislation on the 1st September conditions have obviously got more difficult for those trying to house themselves or make other use of empty properties.
The law (S144 LASPO 2012) makes it a criminal offence to be trespassing in a residential property with the intention of living there.
Some people have been arrested and a few imprisoned for the crime of trying to house themselves. There is no evidence that the properties they were in have been put to use since, nor that any more affordable and accessible housing has been produced. In fact housing costs, particularly in London continue to increase and benefit caps affect increasing numbers of people.
Some people have moved out of their homes, many who had been living in them and looking after them for years after the owners had abandoned them. Other people remain in their homes despite the new law, determined to resist for as long as possible.
People who know about the law change are generally now squatting in non-residential buildings, pubs, offices, warehouses …… These require people to be more organized, and to able to work in groups, so excluding some of the more vulnerable people who have in the past been able to fall back on squatting. They are also more likely to put people into confrontations with owners and their agents who do not know or care about the law. However many on-residential properties can be made into perfectly good homes, and social spaces, and some owners can be made to understand the benefits of properties being occupied and looked after.
The police have acted in a fairly arbitrary manner, in most cases waiting for someone claiming to be an owner to come forward, and then most often accepting their statements even if their version is challenged. On other occasions police appear to have made up their own mind that the occupiers were trespassing (against whom not always being clear). Some police have somehow not understood that a funeral parlour is not residential, have threatened people with arrest who were not living or intending to live to live in the property and many police are confused about the part of the law which says that people who have had a licence are not committing an offence. Advisory Service for Squatters and Squatters Legal Network intend to follow up on these abuses and will be encouraging those affected to sue.
Some parts of the government continue to put on pressure to make things worse, by criminalizing squatting in non-residential properties as well. This is despite the fact that their campaign was previously based on the false idea that people’s homes were being squatted and that this needed to be stopped. [in fact legislation in existence since 1977 made this illegal already]
ASS, along with Squatters Legal Network, SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) and others, will continue to struggle for people to be able to house themselves, and to put empty property to use.