Cost of new squatting law could be £790m

A report released today in The Guardian shows that the cost of criminalising squatting could reach £790 million in the first 5 years. ‘Can We Afford to Criminalise Squatting?’ concludes that government plans for criminalisation currently being debated in the House of Lords are “unaffordable” and “that the government has seriously underestimated the financial implications, raising serious questions”.

Heygate Estate, London

There are 720,000 empty residential buildings in the UK.

The report is published as proposals to criminalise squatting in residential properties have reached report stage under Clause 136 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill (LASPO) currently passing through the House of Lords.

It is expected the House of Lords will scrutinise proposals then vote on amendments next Tuesday 20th March which is when the final day of report stage is scheduled for. Amendments to the clause have already been tabled in opposition by Liberal Democrat peers.

According to the Government’s Final Impact Assessment, the implied costs to the taxpayer of criminalising squatting are estimated at £25m over 5 years, a significant underestimate. The LASPO bill is designed to be a cost-cutting bill, supposedly saving the Government £350m a year.

Numerous groups, including the Law Society, the Metropolitan Police, and the Criminal Bar Association, have stressed that criminalisation is also unnecessary as people displaced from their homes by squatters are already fully protected by the existing 1977 Criminal Law Act.

Inside of the House of Lords

Squatting debate in the House of Lords looms large.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who has tabled amendments opposing criminalisation in the House of Lords, said:

“This legislation is all about saying something is being done rather than actually tackling homelessness. It is also one of the few bits of proposed legislation that comes with a hefty price tag rather than savings.

“The homeless will suffer further, home owners will get no more protection than they do now and derelict empty homes will stay that way”.

Professor Danny Dorling of Sheffield University said:

“This report demonstrates how easy it is for government to propose ideologically driven changes to the law without a good idea of how much the huge cost would be. This is not just the cost in raising aggregate human misery, but also in direct extra financial penalties to the exchequer. If considered carefully, spending so much government money to help what are mostly very affluent organisations keep buildings empty is not justifiable.”

SQUASH campaigner Joseph Blake said:

“The LASPO bill was designed to save money however by tacking on this ill thought out clause they will wipe out a great deal of their savings. The report shows that no change to the current law should be enacted until its costs are sufficiently accounted for. Criminalising squatting is a disaster in the middle of a housing crisis which will put extra strain on homelessness and housing providers, the Police, the criminal justice system and ultimately the taxpayer”.

For further information and interviews contact press@squashcampaign.org or 07895 107 544

Baroness Miller is available for interview if requested.

Notes to Editors