Good ASS squatting article in the Independent

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Aug 28 13:00:34 BST 2010

Young, urban professional seeks home – vacant premises will do

As the recession bites, squatting is soaring, and 
those doing it are often not what you might 
expect. Paul Bignell and Lettice Franklin report

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The number of people living in squats in England 
and Wales has risen by 25 per cent in the last 
seven years, according to new figures. But 
contrary to popular belief, greater numbers of 
squatters are now professional, middle class and upwardly mobile.

The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS), a 
voluntary group, believes there are as many as 
22,000 people living in squats, up from 15,000 
seven years ago. In 1995, estimates put the 
number at 9,500. The figures are believed to be a conservative estimate.

Experts say the increase is fuelled by an 
increase in rents and house prices, a decline in 
public housing stock and tighter restrictions on 
mortgages, meaning there are fewer opportunities 
for people to secure homes. This, together with a 
greater number of vacant properties as a result 
of repossessions or buy-to-let landlords unable 
to rent properties, has resulted in more squatting opportunities.

Agencies dealing with squatters are reporting 
increases in the number of cases they handle. 
Will Kahn, senior adviser at Tenant Eviction UK, 
said: "We have seen a rise in the cases relating 
to squatters in the last year or so. I would say 
this increase is a result of the recession, 
because there are more empty houses. We're 
dealing with seven to eight squatter cases a 
month. A couple of years ago, we were doing two a 
month, so it is a significant increase."

Squatters were typically associated with parts of 
London or other big cities. But many solicitors 
are now seeing a shift towards smaller towns and 
cities throughout England: "You do see it 
happening in towns such as Leicester, 
Peterborough, Norwich, and we've had a few cases 
in Bedford," said Gail Sykes from Buckles 
Solicitors. "We are seeing a different kind of 
squatter. You used to have a lot of travellers 
moving in and camping on land. We now tend to be 
dealing with people breaking into or obtaining 
access to clients' vacant properties. We've seen 
that change within the last 18 months."

Many organisations said they were also seeing a 
variety of people squatting – from young 
professionals who want to save money to art 
students seeking space for their art work.

A spokesman for ASS said: "More people are 
thinking about squatting because of the 
recession. We get calls from a very wide spectrum 
of people. You certainly can't tell what type of 
person is going to end up squatting. Art 
students, for example, need more space than they could get by renting."

Definitive figures on numbers of squatters are 
hard to come by, as police and many local authorities do not keep records.

Squatting is lawful in England and Wales if entry 
to an empty property is not forced resulting in 
criminal damage. Owners of the squatted building 
are forced to take civil action through the 
courts to remove the unwanted occupants. In 
Scotland it is illegal to squat in a property. If 
someone is found to have illegally entered a 
property, the police will take action.

Experts say the new generation of squatters have 
a greater understanding of the law and how it can 
protect them, helped in part by sophisticated 
legal advice available on the internet.

Ben Gower for UK Bailiff Company said squatters 
had become legally savvy. He said one person 
would walk up to a property, break a window and 
walk away. Then another would come along and 
enter the property through that window and put up 
a "squatters' rights" notice. "Previously 
squatters were people who didn't have money and 
found empty premises," Mr Gower said. "Now they 
break in and others put up a section 6 notice 
saying 'we are squatting on these premises'."

At the squatting movement's height 40 years ago, 
many occupied buildings as a badge of their 
political activism. Nowadays, squatters are more 
likely to be driven by financial necessity rather than social concern.

In 1994, the then Home Secretary Michael Howard, 
said: "There can be no excuse for seizing someone 
else's property for however short a time." 
Measures in the Criminal Justice Bill were then 
designed to deal a blow to squatters.

The coalition government has promised to act 
promptly now that squatter numbers are 
increasing. They have promised to give greater 
powers to councils and landowners to better deal 
with squatters. The communities minister, Bob 
Neill, said he is working on proposals to create 
a new criminal offence of intentional trespass. 
He has also said: "We are also committed to 
dealing with the problems caused by empty 
properties and are exploring a range of measures 
to help local communities bring empty homes into use."

A spokesman for the Advisory Service for 
Squatters, said: "If land and property is not 
being used, it can be beneficial for the 
neighbours and community that it is used and 
doesn't become an eyesore. The Criminal Justice 
Act only served to make squatters more insecure. 
The more secure they are, the more energy they 
are going to put into the community. I don't 
think the Government will criminalise squatting in any simplistic way."

Case Studies

The Squatter: 'Squatting could be seen as a gap-year activity'

Carys Jones, 21, has been squatting in a disused 
warehouse in Nottingham for six months with 
between 10 and 20 others. She works as a 
secretary for the NHS and is taking a degree in 
English literature. She started squatting after 
becoming homeless. Her squat faces the daily threat of eviction.

"There are lots of pros to living in a squat, 
beyond the financial ones. Squats hold community 
events, give out meals and actually improve 
difficult neighbourhoods. You have to consider 
the ethics of squatting. Our building is a Grade 
II-listed Victorian warehouse, owned by a private 
landlord, which has been neglected for years. I 
would never advocate going into someone's home. 
Squatters aren't unemployed heroin addicts. Lots 
of my housemates work. There are cons, however: 
people break windows and scream 'dirty 
squatters!' In 10 years time, I probably won't be 
squatting. I'm working and studying, so I'll 
probably be settling down. Squatting has been a 
really good learning experience. I feel a lot 
more confident and I can tackle anything. It could be a gap-year activity."

The Victims of Squatting: 'These were not people who were poor or homeless'

Professor Phil Reed, 47, and Dr Lisa Osborne, 46, 
bought a home in Brighton in 1995. They lived 
there until 2001. Moving to Swansea because of 
work commitments in 2003, they used the property 
to store their personal belongings. In 2008, not 
having been to the house for some time, the 
couple received an electricity bill for £2,026.67.

"When I drove past our property in January 2009, 
to our horror we noticed a light was on, a 
scooter was parked on the property and our car, 
left in the drive, was missing. I immediately 
telephoned the police. After speaking to the 
people inside, the police said they had admitted 
the property was broken into in the last couple 
of years and they had been living there since. 
They told us they were willing to pay rent. The 
police warned us not to disturb them and promptly 
left. I also saw a satellite dish had been fixed 
to the chimney. These were not people who were 
poor or homeless. This has left us extremely 
distressed. We know who the people are – they 
[now] live just round the corner. It makes us 
sick to think of what they did and has left us with no faith in the police."

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list