At Society & Citizenship Zone Conference I held a workshop with a member of Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) to bust the myths around the issue of squatting and to do some brainstorming about how we could stop the government criminalising squatting. Two weeks later the government sneaked in the criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings in a last minute amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.
Problems with making squatting a criminal offence
There are several problems with making squatting a criminal offence.
Firstly, this new legislation will criminalise the homeless. Regional and national homelessness charities argue that for many homeless and vulnerable people squatting is the only way of avoiding rough sleeping. As many as 1 in 3 homeless people had squatted at some point. Squatting is a symptom of the housing crisis; if the root causes of homelessness were addressed through better provision of services and support, people would not squat.
Secondly, the new legislation may criminalise student occupations. It will make occupations of halls of residence a criminal offence, and as the law also does not define what it means by ‘residential’, we may see this law being misused and extended to other buildings.
Thirdly, this new legislation is not necessary. Civil law already successfully protects landlords from squatters. The Metropolitan Police considered that “the law was broadly in the right place and that the existing array of offences allowed them to tackle the worst cases of squatting”
Lastly, this new legislation will be unworkable. At a time where the public sector is experiencing cut backs, this law will place undue pressure on the police. The High Court Enforcement Officers supported this view that the Police do not have the resources to carry out evictions.
To join the campaign against the criminalisation of squatting join the student SQUASH mailing list by emailing email@example.com
Amanda Walters is a member of the Society and Citizenship zone committee, she is also a Sabbatical officer at the University of Manchester Students' Union