ASS Response to Government Squatting Consultation

mark mark at
Wed Aug 10 21:21:06 BST 2011

Advisory Service For Squatters response to govt. squatting consultation just
posted up the ASS website:-
The government consultation on attacking squatting is a very ill-informed
It admits to a lack of information, but refers to "public concern" meaning
in fact a campaign by a number of newspapers, as a reason for making
changes. The consultation is apparently trying to find out what is going on
while at the same time proposing a savage response to what is somehow
believed to be happening.
One thing the document is asking for information on is what proportion of
squatters occupy empty property. This question clearly comes from reading
distorted newspaper articles and not investigating what happens in reality.
Squatters occupy empty property. If the property had an existing or planned
occupier the squatters have made a mistake and have to leave.
Apart from the legal aspect, squatters are looking for a home where they
will be able to live for as long as possible. This obviously excludes places
that are occupied.
Media coverage of squatting tends to assume that property is owned by an
individual, and they use the term "homeowner" even when the property in
question is not their, or anyone's home. The vast majority of squatting
takes place in property owned by institutions and left empty for a
significant amount of time. 
The document states that the reason why people's homes cannot be squatted
(under S7 CLA 1977) is because they might conceivably be made homeless. In
fact the law was passed because of a similar political and media campaign
which invented stories of people having their homes squatted while they were
at the shops or on holiday in the 70s. The information included in the
consultation paper is confused. IPOs are referred to on page 8 of the
consultation paper as being "intended for urgent repossession by a displaced
occupier". This is inaccurate. There is no stipulation that IPO applicants
must be displaced occupiers nor that the premises claimed need to be
urgently put into use. Many properties evicted by Interim Possession Orders
remain empty for months or years afterwards. Figures are quoted in Chapter 2
for the number of orders made by courts against trespassers. This includes
both Interim Possession Orders and ordinary Possession Orders, ignoring the
fact that IPOs have to be followed up by a full possession order, so
including IPOs means a duplication. From these figures 531, not 747
properties have had possession orders made against trespassers. The section
describing the civil court procedure jumps between trespassers and tenants,
and refers to IPOs as being alternative to a full possession order, rather
than additional.
Even more confusing is the document's use of the term "occupier". Unlike
normal usage, an occupier in this document appears to be someone who would
have a right to occupy a property were it not being occupied by someone
else. This is in part because of the difficulty in defining who a person
with a right to occupation might be, and shows the dangers of ill-considered
reactions. The reality is that the existing laws already contain massive
scope for abuse by all types of landlords. It is unlikely that the proposed
'counter-balancing' offence of 'knowingly or recklessly accusing a
legitimate tenant of being a squatter' will function as an effective
deterrent. In our experience as a housing advisory service we have found it
very difficult to report and follow up offences under section 6 of the
Criminal Law Act 1977 (such as illegal evictions) and Section 75 Criminal
Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (false statements for the purposes of an
IPO application).
Another piece of confusion caused by policy reacting to press stories is the
mention at the end of the forward to other plans "to stop squatters getting
legal aid to fight eviction". This is clearly a result of confusion spread
firstly by the Daily Telegraph where squatters were given advice by a duty
solicitor in court. People who are accused of trespass and have only
technical defences can not get legal aid because they have no chance of
winning. To have a chance of winning and so of legal aid they would need a
substantive argument such as a licence, or that a public body seeking to
evict them had failed in a duty towards them resulting in their position.
However, the group who would be most affected by the proposals to abolish
access to civil legal aid are travellers and those living on unauthorised
encampments. It is telling that the Ministry of Justice Equality Impact
Assessment makes no mention of such groups (20% of whom according to the
Irish Traveller Movement in Britain are statutorily homeless1). Neither is
any reliable information about squatters and the vulnerably housed provided.
It is not surprising in light of all this to read Crispin Blunt claim that
there are avenues other than squatting open to those in need - presumably he
read this in a newspaper too.
ASS would recommend any organization or individual who knows the reality of
squatting and homelessness to respond to this.

[1] Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, (2011) p. 3. 'Memorandum by the
Irish Traveller Movement in Britain on the Localism Bill', London: ITMB




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