Squatting Stats 2015 version 2 released

SQUASH’s 2015 report on the enforcement & impact of section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (s144 LASPOA) – which criminalises squatting in empty residential properties in England & Wales – has just been updated as Version 2 with the following information:

  • Convictions & Sentences for section 144 & “Begging” from analysis of Ministry of Justice Criminal Justice statistics, released 19 May 2016;
  • Crime Related Incidents (CRI) from the Greater Manchester Police about “squatting”  in 2015, providing useful background on Alternative Offences, and evidence of single women & families squatting.

Arrests – There were at least 148 arrests under s144 LASPOA in 2015. This brings the total confirmed arrests to date to 736 people since 2012. An average of 160 people are being arrested every year. 50-60% of those arrested were charged with the offence and half were remanded in police custody before first hearing at a Magistrates Court.

Prosecuted – Prosecutions of section 144 offences has been rising year on year since 2012, and is currently averaging around 13 prosecutions a month, according to Crown Prosecution Service data. This brings the total number of section 144 prosecutions brought for a first hearing at a Magistrates court since 2012 to 326;

Convictions – there were 69 convictions out of 87 Prosecutions in 2015, with the most popular sentences being Fines (51%), Conditional Discharges (20%) and Community Sentences (10%). However 3 people were imprisoned for section 144 in 2015, and the figure since 2012 is estimated to be 11 sent to prison.

The vast majority arrests and prosecutions for section 144 are occurring in London and the South East. No police force was able to cite a single case of a displaced residential occupier for a squatting arrest. Squatters arrested for a number of alternative offences (eg Criminal Damage, Burglary), are often charged with section 144 as a secondary offence when the more serious offences can’t be successfully prosecuted.

Squatting provides a refuge for women of all ages facing eviction or fleeing sexual/ domestic violence. For example, many “squatting” incidents in the Greater Manchester Police records relate to single women and mothers with children, and Kate Osamor, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, giving evidence on Homelessness stated: “One woman, a former lawyer, was homeless for over six months. She and her disabled adult daughter resorted to squatting, and to sleeping in churches or on night buses.” With the introduction of section 144, vulnerably-housed families, mothers and single women are facing the added danger of arrest and imprisonment for being made homeless.

It is estimated there were 83,000 young homeless people in 2015, 610,000 empty residential properties (2014), and since 2010/11, rough sleeping numbers have risen dramatically. The government’s response to rising homelessness has been to underreport and criminalise those sleeping rough, eg Operation Encompass, as well as repress the outward signs of destitution, such as begging. Links between the aggressive enforcement of homeless criminalisation and rising house prices can be found in London and other parts of England, and laws, like section 144, act as a public subsidy to private landlords, enabling them are to leave homes empty and fast-track evictions.

SQUASH & Streets Kitchen are calling for a Repeal of section 144 LASPOA (2011), and a complete review of all anti-homeless operations and policies in England and Wales. The homelessness crisis is serious and must be addressed humanely.

To read the full Report, check the “Squatting Statistics 2015 – Version 2” web page.