PRESS RELEASE – Squatting Stats 2015: rising homelessness linked to criminalisation of squatting

Press Release For Immediate Release

Squatting stats 2015: rising homelessness linked to criminalisation of squatting

Today the Ministry of Justice released its Quarterly Criminal Justice system statistics [1], with data on prosecution and conviction of criminal offences, including section 144 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2011), which criminalises squatting in residential properties in England and Wales.

Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) [2] and Streets Kitchen [3] expect the data to back up their claims that section 144 LASPOA is leading to the arrest of young homeless people in the hundreds, rising street homelessness and is responsible for pushing up residential property prices.

The latest report [4] from Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH), in partnership with Streets Kitchen, found that 148 people were arrested under section 144 in 2015, bringing the total number of people arrested for the offence to at least 736 since 2012. The majority of these were young and homeless, men and women, with ages ranging from 17 to 56, but mostly in their 20’s and 30’s.

Year on year, the CPS is prosecuting more section 144 offences, with the result that more homeless people are being sent to jail, fined or facing restrictive custody conditions. Previous SQUASH reports [5] have shown that magistrates, and the police, are not properly trained to interpret the legal terms in section 144, such as “residential” and “living”, or “intending to live”, with the result that convictions are largely punitive.

The impact of section 144 has been to drive the young homeless onto the streets, into rough sleeping and street homelessness. The massive increase in rough sleeping, especially in London (up 106% since 2009/10) and other major cities [6], is almost certainly partly due to section 144. The Crisis (2011) report Squatting: a homelessness issue found “that 40% of single homeless people squat.” [7], and section 144 has criminalised this important buffer for the young homeless.

SQUASH also analysed current house prices, long-term empty property and squatting arrest statistics in England, and found a link between these three factors. According to Empty Homes [8], there were at least 610,123 empty residential dwellings in England in 2014, of which 205,821 (33%) were long-term empty (ie more than six months). Due to section 144, these properties cannot be squatted, forcing the homeless onto the streets, and keeping property prices buoyant.

For example, in London, where there are almost 60,000 empty homes (30,000 long-term empty) [9], the homeless are being criminalised en-mass, making up three-quarters of section 144 arrests since 2012. London has the fastest house price growth in the country, 43% since September 2012, compared to the English average of 17% [10]. Criminalising homelessness is acting as a public subsidy for private sector landlords, whose average personal financial assets already outstrip those of the general British population by a factor of three. [11]

Jim Smith, from Squatters Actions for Secure Homes (SQUASH), said:

“The situation is pretty dire at the moment if you are young and homeless.

By removing squatting as an important buffer, homeless people are being driven onto the street to die in the cold. It is an outrage that in the world’s 5th richest country there are still 610,000 empty properties in England and at the same time over 700 people have been arrested for the act of finding shelter in these empty houses.

In not one case was there a report of a displaced resident. The truth is that the criminalisation of squatting is acting as a public subsidy for private landlords, one of the wealthiest sections of the British population.

This new report proves our warnings back in 2011 that that the new law was unjust, unnecessary and undemocratic.”

Jon, from Streets Kitchen, made the following statement:

“Streets Kitchen is seeing more people coming to our streets kitchens, where we distribute free food directly to those that need it. The people coming are not just street homeless people, but people in private rented accommodation who can’t eat.

There were at least 194 street people who died in London in 2015 and that’s just the ones we know about. That’s four a week, people are literally dying on our streets!

While there are 10 empty homes for every homeless person, there is a massive street homeless crisis going on at the moment not just in London, but in other British cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Brighton where the situation is bad.

While the real scale of the problem is being muddied by the poverty pimps, Streets Kitchen is out there practicing solidarity, not charity.”

ENDS

Contact

  • Contact Person: Jim Smith
  • Email: press@squashcampaign.org
  • Press Phone: +44 (0)7435 704 038

NOTES TO THE EDITOR:

[1] “Criminal Justice system Statistics quarterly: December 2015”; Ministry of Justice, 19 May 2016; https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/criminal-justice-system-statistics-quarterly-december-2015

[2] Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) is a pro-squatting campaign, which challenged the introduction of section 144 LASPOA in 2011/12 and has since been monitoring its impacts. Website: www.squashcampaign.org

[3] Streets Kitchen is a homeless action group based in North London, which distributes food and other essentials to rough sleepers and those in need. Website: http://streetskitchen.co.uk/

[4] The new report Squatting Statistics 2015: The link between rising homelessness and the criminalisation of squatting (May 2016) can be found on our website: http://www.squashcampaign.org/repeal-law/report-squatting-statistics-2015/

[5] SQUASH report, Homes, not Jails (April 2015), analyses the arrests, disposals, and prosecution of section 144 offences between 2012-14. http://www.squashcampaign.org/2015/04/homes-not-jails-april-2015-squashs-latest-report/

[6] Suzanne Fitzpatrick et al; The homelessness monitor: England 2016; Crisis, January 2016; http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/Homelessness_Monitor_England_2016_FINAL_%28V12%29.pdf

[7] Reeve, K., Squatting: a Homelessness issue, Crisis, 2011; http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/Crisis_SquattingReport_SEPT2011.pdf

[8] Empty Homes in England; Empty Homes, Autumn 2015; http://www.emptyhomes.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Empty-homes-in-England-Final.pdf

[9] “Live tables on dwelling stock (including vacants)”; Gov.uk, 28 April 2016; https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-dwelling-stock-including-vacants

[10] Land Registry House Price Index; Land Registry; http://landregistry.data.gov.uk/app/hpi

[11] Chris Lord, et al; Understanding Landlords: A study of private landlords in the UK using the Wealth and Assets Survey; The Strategic Society Centre, July 2013; http://strategicsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Lord-C-Lloyd-J-and-Barnes-M-2013-Understanding-Landlords.pdf