Legal challenge to new squatting law

This post is by Leigh Day & Co legal firm who are coordinating the legal challenge and was originally posted on their blog here

A mother of four from Wales is taking legal action challenging the new anti-squatting legislation, coming into force today (1 September 2012), in a bid to stay in the house she has lived in for 11 years with her children.

Irene Gardiner (49) has lived in her home, a cottage in Newchapel, near Llanidloes, as a squatter for 11 years. Her two younger children Hazel (15) and Sol (13) live with her and attend the local school.

Ms Gardiner, who has paid Council Tax since she moved into the property, is a jeweller and a puppeteer who has worked as a secretary at a local charity shop for nearly 10 years. She has no criminal record.

However, from 1 September 2012 onwards, as a result of The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, she could face arrest, prosecution, a custodial sentence and a fine for £5000, simply for continuing to live in her home.

The Act would also make her homeless along with her two school age children as it makes squatting in a residential building a criminal offence.

Lawyers, acting for Ms Gardiner believe that if the Police and/or Director of Public Prosecutions were to take action against their client, they would be acting in breach of the Human Rights Act, and breaching Ms Gardiner’s Article 8 right to a personal and family life.

Groups, including the Law Society, the Metropolitan Police, and the Criminal Bar Association, have stressed that criminalisation of squatters is unnecessary as people seeking to evict squatters from their properties are already fully protected by the existing provisions.

The estimated cost of the Act could be as high as £790m* to the UK taxpayer as those criminalised by their current living arrangements are hauled through the Courts with costs for eviction being passed onto the police and councils having to meet the costs of re-housing.

Ugo Hayter, part of Ms Gardiner’s legal team at Leigh Day & Co said:

“The ramifications for society are enormous. This legislation will have impacts on the most vulnerable people in society, and will be a further burden on already strained public services.

“There is existing criminal and civil law which enables property owners to swiftly evict squatters, and home owners will derive no further protection from this new legislation. It will simply criminalise the homeless.”

Rosa Curling, also part of Ms Gardiner’s legal team at Leigh Day & Co said:

“Many thousands of people choose to squat in unoccupied residential properties, they pay council tax and are members of their communities. They should not have to face the choice of criminal prosecution or losing their home.

“Ms Gardiner’s individual circumstances are such that the application of Section 144 of the Act is totally disproportionate to the aim being pursued by the Secretary of State for Justice in introducing this piece of legislation.”