Campaign lobbies against rush to criminalise

The Government announced yesterday amendments to the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill, including a clause to make squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence, with up to 51 weeks imprisonment.

They are due to debate and possibly vote on the amendment next Tuesday 1st November in the House of Commons.

Yesterday also saw the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) publish their summary of the consultation ‘Options for Dealing with Squatters’ which came to an end on October 5th.

There were 2,217 responses and over 90% of responses argued against taking any action on squatting. See this table from the report.

The MoJ recognised “that the statistical weight of responses was therefore against taking any action on squatting” but stated that they ‘have taken a qualitative rather than quantitative approach because 1,990 responses (i.e. almost 90 per cent of the total) were received in support of a campaign organised by SQUASH (Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes).

Read the full summary (pdf 0.2mb).

Recognising your impact

Despite the Government’s clear determination to criminalise squatting as part of what feels like a master plan to exacerbate the housing crisis, it is clear that the number of responses opposing any criminalisation by a wide range of people for a wide range of reasons played a large part in limiting the Government’s enclosures and reducing the impact of new laws.

Crispin Blunt wrote in his foreword to the Summary of Responses:

Stopping short of criminalising squatting in non-residential buildings represents a balanced compromise.

The amendment states that making squatting in residential building a criminal offence will “end the misery of home-owners whose properties have been preyed on by squatters”.

However, strong legislation already exists to protect residents from having there home squatted.

Last month 158 leading legal figures wrote an open letter which was published in The Guardian explaining that under Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 it is already a criminal offence to squat someone’s home.

So what can be done?

Lobby your MP

It is worth contacting your MP asking that they vote on the amendment. You can contact your MP easily at www.theyworkforyou.com. We have produced an example letter to show what you might address.

Better still, book an appointment to meet them in their parliamentary or constituency office or open surgery.

This is how you can suggest they vote.

Option 1: Oppose the amended clause that criminalises squatting in residential buildings during next week’s debates and votes. There is advice on the SQUASH website for how to do this.

Option 2: Support Crisis’ alternative amendment to the ‘New Clause’.

The following amendments aim to reduce the impact on the squatter-homeless and create a disincentive to leave residential property empty long term;

  • That the law only covers residential property left empty for less than 6 months.
  • That the offence is not applicable in cases where the person is a care leaver or who has in the previous year been registered homeless/at risk.

Take action

Monday 31st October: Call out for a mass sleep out: meet 6.30pm outside High Street Kensington Tube (with sleeping bags)

Take action wherever you are to show them how ill-considered it is to put squatters on the streets.

Please help spread the word about these fast-moving events.