“Homes, Not Jails” – SQUASH’s latest report

Squatting in England and Wales has become increasingly difficult, unstable and uncertain over the last two and a half years, due in so small part to section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (s144 LASPOA) which came into force in September 2012. The new law criminalised squatting in empty residential premises, and made what was a civil matter into a criminal offense, meaning that the police and magistrates were now involved. Since 2012, almost 600 young homeless people have been arrested by the police, and at least 200 prosecuted for the offense of sheltering themselves in empty and unused buildings.

Concerned about the effect of the new law and how it was impacting the homeless, Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) released “The Case Against Section 144” in March 2013, a six-month review of the effects of s144 LASPOA. The report found s144 LASPOA to be:

  1. Undemocratic since this new criminal law had an unusually short parliamentary process, and the consultation process was ignored;
  2.  Unjust since it ignored the irrefutable link between squatting and homelessness;
  3. Unnecessary since displaced residents were already protected under the Criminal Law Act 1977; and
  4. Unaffordable, because it transferred the social and financial costs of eviction from private owners to the ever-shrinking public purse.

Now, two years on, SQUASH has released its latest report “Homes, Not Jails” (April 2015), a 28-month review of the effects of s144 LASPOA using freedom of information data and case studies. The report has found that for the period September 2012 to January 2015:

  • There have been at least 588 arrests, 200 prosecutions and 51 convictions under s144 LASPOA, with 75% of those arrests occurring in London.
  • Case studies and statistics show that the police use s144 LASPOA in an arbitrary manner, to summarily evict people suspected of squatting, without sufficient evidence.
  • Those prosecuted have been men and women, aged between 21 and 41. This is the generation that is bearing the brunt of Britain’s current housing crisis, those facing PRS evictions, welfare cuts, and exclusion from affordable housing options.
  • Most evictions and arrests under s144 LASPOA occurred during the Winter months (October – March), endangering the lives and well-being of those thrown out into the freezing cold. The case of 35-year old homeless man, Daniel Gauntlett, who died in February 2013 from hypothermia, shows what can happen.
  • Throughout, there have been calls by politicians on the right and left, as well mainstream media outlets, to extend criminalisation to commercial buildings, which threatens many more young people with instability and the prospect of sleeping rough.

SQUASH is concerned that s144 LASPOA is criminalising the homeless, and detrimentally effecting the quality of life for many thousands of people. We are therefore calling for s144 LASPOA to be repealed, and an end to illegal and unlawful evictions. Squatting must return to being a civil matter, because the police and magistrates are not equipped to deal with questions of possession and property law.

The PDF report can be downloaded here:

“Homes, Not Jails” (April 2015) – 6 pages

“Appendix for Homes, Not Jails” (April 2015) – 55 pages

Scribd embedded image of the reports below; be aware Scribd operate a paywall when trying to download the documents. Use links above for downloading.

Homes, Not Jails – SQUASH, April 2015

Appendix: Evidence Base for Homes, Not Jails (April 2015)