All still to play for

The Government have voted through an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, to make squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence, with up to 51 weeks imprisonment.

The clause has now moved to the House of Lords where it will face its first proper scrutiny. A second reading took place on the 21st November where a general debate on all aspects of the bill occurred. The bill is still to go to committee stage where a full line by line examination should happen and this stage is yet to be scheduled. You can keep track and follow the bill as it moves through the different stages here.

SQUASH has produced a briefing for the Lords.

The Government has ignored the results of its own consultation. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published its summary of the consultation ‘Options for Dealing with Squatters’ which came to an end on October 5th.

There were 2,217 responses and over 96% of responses from across society argued against taking any action on squatting. This included such unlikely bedfellows as the Police, Magistrates and even one Landlords Association. 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 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

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 their home squatted.

In September, 160 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.

The consultation and the clause were made alongside a campaign of misinformation from sections of the media. This campaign served to create confusion about existing legislation on squatting and constructed ‘public demand’ for criminalisation. In the end only 7 people out of 2,217 responded to the consultation to say that their residential property had been squatted and they considered it a problem.

So what can be done?

Lobby a Lord

The Bill is currently passing through the Lords. It is in the committee stage, which means that for about 8 separate days over the next couple of months, they will gradually read through every clause in the Bill, and discuss any amendments to each clause. Any Lord can join the debate, and any Lord can table an amendment. Every amendment will be discussed.

Unlike MPs, Lords don’t have constituents. This means that anyone is allowed to contact any Lord – but it’s not always easy.

We have produced a briefing for Lords, and are working on some tips for anyone that would like to have a go at contacting them. If you’re interested in getting involved with this, or if you have any contact with any Lords (seriously), please get in touch with us on info [at] squashcampaign [dot] org.

Rally your MP

It is still worth contacting your MP. 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.

Take action

We need more actions to keep the pressure up. On Monday 31st October hundreds took to the streets to highlight the fact that thousands of people will be made homeless if squatting is criminalised. The squatting movement must now start to set the agenda by showing the wider public the value of being able to squat in empty residential buildings. If people need help with organising media for actions then you can get in touch with our media team at press [at] squashcampaign [dot] org or on 07415516105.