Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) launches a new “Repeal section 144” petition, calling for a repeal of the law which criminalises residential squatting in England and Wales. The new law, section 144 LASPOA, has had a serious impact on squatting in England and Wales since it became enforceable in September 2012, and its main victims have been the young and homeless.
The petition aims to:
- Provide an on-going, online platform for people to show their support for squatting;
- Act as leverage to start a process of repeal of section 144 in Parliament;
- Exist as a testament to the widespread support squatting has from the general public – like the 96% who said “No!” at the consultation stage.
Why are we using Moveon.org? Moveon.org is a US website, offering free petition hosting, lets SQUASH download the pdf of signatures for free, is not time bound (like Gov.uk), and does not send you spam emails after you’ve signed it.How to use Moveon.org Petition:
- Click on the link above;
- Add your details – 1) Name, 2) Email, 3) Country – “United Kingdom”;
- You can add other details like “Comments” about why you want the law repealed.
——–Thanks for signing!———
For more information about section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (section 144 LASPOA, for short) and repeal, check the drop-downs below v
v Previous Attempts to Repeal section 144 v
GOV.UK Petition (January 2013) – SQUASH posted a petition on the Gov.uk Petitions page. The petition needed 10,00 signatures to be discussed in Parliament, or 100,000 to get it into a Parliamentary debate. At the close of the petition in January 2014, it had 3,248 signatures.
An Early Day Motion (March 2013) – An Early Day Motion (EDMs) was tabled in March 2013 (EDM 1238) calling for a repeal of section 144. EDMs are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons; very few are actually debated but allow MPs to draw attention to an event or cause. The EDM was signed by 13 Members of Parliament, but this was not enough to get the motion discussed in the House of Commons.
Guardian Letter (March 2013) – an open letter, signed by 40 top lawyers, was published in the Guardian newspaper. The letter, “Anti-squatting law should be repealed”, called for a repeal of the new law, section 144 LASPOA, following the findings of SQUASH’s report “The Case against section 144”.
v What is the Law Currently Regarding Residential Squatting? v
- You trespass in a residential building, and
- You entered the building as a trespasser (rather than e.g. by invitation), and
- You know or ‘ought to know’ that you are a trespasser, and
- You are living in the building or intend to live there (for any length of time)
It is not a crime to remain in a building after the end of a lease or licence, even if you leave and re-enter the building. The law only applies to ‘residential buildings.’ A building is “residential” if it is designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live – in other words if commercial premises are squatted and turned into residential premises by the squatter, the law won’t apply. Its still legal to squat empty unused commercial buldings,eg :factories,shops,churches,community centres,warehouses,pubs,land for eco villages,etc.derelict/unused space.
Penalty: If convicted of this offence by the court, the maximum penalty is Imprisonment for 51 weeks Or a fine not more than £5,000 Or both a fine and imprisonment
Police powers: Police can enter and search squatted premises to arrest a person for squatting.
- Building” includes any structure or part of a structure, including a temporary or moveable structure
- The fact that you got title to the building from a trespasser, or have permission to be in the building from a trespasser, does not mean you are not a trespasser.
- The Legislation for section 144 LASPOA;
- London Metropolitan Police Guidelines and Presentation (2012), who account for 75% of section 144 arrests;
- Crown Prosecution Service Guidelines: “Trespass and Nuisance on Land”;
- Analysis: “Fuck s144! Some quick analysis of the Brighton case” by Rooftop Resistance, 2013.
- Advice: the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) answers queries about what types of buildings can be squatted, and your legal situation.
v What is Wrong with section 144 LASPOA? v
- s144 LASPOA disproportionately affects the homeless and vulnerably housed;
- Despite 96% of respondents rejecting the governments consultation, the law was rushed through parliament without sufficient scrutiny and therefore lacks legitimacy;
- Contrary to government and media propaganda, s144 LASPOA does nothing more to protect people in their homes,who were already protected by the existing Criminal Law Act 1977;
- Some people have ultimately gone to jail for using empty buildings to put a roof over their head, e.g. Alex Haigh (21);
- Others prevented from squatting, or evicted from squats, in the winter months have suffered from deteriorating health, and some have even died, e.g. Daniel Gauntlett (35);
- The law is increasing the burden on taxpayers as squatters move into the housing benefit system, and in the costs of criminal enforcement and prosecution;
- It encourages property speculators and unscrupulous landlords to keep buildings empty.
SQUASH’s report “The Case Against Section 144” (March 2013) found the law to be:
- Undemocratic since 96% of respondents rejected the proposal in the government’s consultation but wereignored, and the new criminal law had an unusually short parliamentary process;
- Unjust since it ignored the irrefutable link between squatting and homelessness;
- Unnecessary since displaced residents were already protected under the Criminal Law Act 1977; and
- Unaffordable, because it transferred the social and financial costs of eviction from private owners to theever-shrinking public purse.
- There have been at least 588 arrests, 200 prosecutions and 51 convictions under s144 LASPOA, with 75% ofthose 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, the demographic that is taking the brunt of 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,
- Police and magistrates do not have adequate training or resources to deal with the complexities of possession claims or interpreting the new law, ie “living or intending to live” and “residential”.
- 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;
- Charged: The percentage of those charged with the offence was 64% of arrested in 2015 (94), and half of those charged were remanded in custody before their court hearing;
- No police force was able to cite a single case of a displaced residential occupier for a squatting arrest; and section 144 is often used as a secondary, backup offence when more serious offences can’t be successfully prosecuted;
- Prosecutions & Convictions: Prosecutions of section 144 offences have been rising since 2012 (total 326 since 2012), and there were 69 convictions in 2015 alone. 3 people were imprisoned for section 144 in 2015, and the figure since 2012 is estimated to be at least 11 sent to prison.
- Rising Homelessness: more 18-34 year olds are being made homeless through private and social housing evictions, and it is estimated there were 83,000 young homeless in 2015; rough sleeping numbers have risen dramatically since 2010/11, due in part to the implementation of section 144, as squatting is closed off to those in most need;
- Legislative Subsidy: laws like section 144, among others, acts as a public subsidy for private landlords and speculators, enabling them are to leave homes empty and fast-track evictions.
v What is a Repeal? v
Laws That have been Repealed:
- Poor Laws (1601) – created during Queen Elizabeth and responsible for the intense suffering after theenclosures, with severe punishments for vagrancy, the infamous workhouse (aka workfare plus), and passing the burdenof supporting the dispossessed from the church & guild to the parish (through additional taxes). Repealed in 1948with the formation of the modern social welfare state.[Time to repeal: only a few hundred years]
- Corn Laws (1815) – responsible for increasing the price of bread in England by putting tariffs on importedcereals from France and making English landowners nice and rich (hoorah!). The Anti Corn Law League arose after theadvent of Chartism (universal suffrage), and ran in parallel for a long time; however the reformist League drew awaya lot of energy and support from the more radical Chartists and labour movement. Eventually the League succeeded inrepealing the law in 1846, partly due to the potato famine in Ireland and partly due to industrialists no longerwilling to subsidise the landowners.[Time to repeal: 30 years]
- Bubble Act (1720) – after the spectacular rise and fall of the South Sea Company (known as the South SeaBubble, the Enron of its day), the government forbad any dealing of shares and creation of for-profit corporations.The law was repealed in 1825 and was responsible for the formation of the modern corporation with limitedliability.[Time to repeal: 100 years]
- Finance Act (1931) – this act provided a system of charging land value tax on rising property prices inEngland and Wales, based on Henry George’s progressive ideas. However, although the bill was passed it was neverapplied consistently, and was repealed three years later in 1934 (by the House of Lords).[Time to repeal: 3 years]
- Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) – The amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material withthe intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability ofhomosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Although no one has ever been prosecuted under the legislation, ithas continually been targeted by anti-discrimination campaigners and was finally repealed on 21 June 2000 inScotland, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of Great Britain by section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003.[Time to repeal: 15 years]
- The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) – The SOCPA legislation forbids any protest around Parliament (as many will know), and a dedicated group called “RepealSOCPA” set out to get the provisions in the act repealed. They have an excellent website with the full judicial/legislative/ etc processes. The parts of SOCPA were repealed in March 2012by the more Orwellian PRASR Act.[Time to repeal: 7 years and counting]