The link between rising homelessness and the criminalisation of squatting – May 2016
Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) has been tracking implementation of section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (s144 LASPOA) since it came into effect in September 2012. Section 144 criminalises squatting in empty residential properties, gives the police new powers, and guilt is determined by a lay magistrate, rather than a trained judge.
Since 2012, there have been at least 738 arrests, 326 prosecutions, 260 convictions and 11 people imprisoned for the offence, based on available information.
The original report, released on the 19 May 2016, has been updated as Version 2.0, and contains additional information, namely:
- Prosecution & Conviction statistics for section 144 & “Begging”, using Ministry of Justice Criminal Justice data released 19 May 2016
- Crime Related Incidents (CRI): Greater Manchester Police submitted information about “squatting” CRIs in 2015, which gives useful background on Alternative Offences, and evidence of women & families squatting.
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Arrests & Disposals
- 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;
- Arrest Targets: Arrests for section 144 have been averaging around 160 arrests per year. This suggests an annual arrest target for this offence.
- Displaced Residents: When asked, no police force was able to cite a single case of a displaced residential occupier for a squatting arrest;
- Backup Offence: Squatters are arrested for a number of alternative offences (eg Criminal Damage, Burglary), and section 144 is often used as a secondary offence when the more serious offences can’t be successfully prosecuted;
- Prosecutions: Prosecutions of section 144 offences has been rising year on year since 2012, and is currently averaging around 13 prosecutions a month, up from 10 in 2014-15. 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 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.
- Fast-track evictions, using Interim Possession Orders and High Court Bailiffs, are increasing and becoming more common;
- Illegal evictions by landlords, the police and security firms continue, as it is widely believed that section 144 criminalises all squatting, and that squatters are de facto “criminals”;
- Length of Occupation: Squats now last little more than 3 weeks in general, three months at most. This is in sharp contrast to pre-2012 lengths of occupation, of between 6 months to a year.
Criminalising the Homeless & Market Effects
- 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;
- Rising Rough Sleeping: rough sleeping number have risen dramatically since 2010/11, due in part to the implementation of section 144, and at least 194 rough sleepers died in London in 2015;
- Underreporting and Criminalisation: 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;
- Rising House Prices: links between aggressive enforcement of homeless criminalisation and rising house prices can be seen in London and other parts of England;
- Legislative Subsidy: 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.
“Squatting Statistics 2015 – Version 2.0” report can be found here:
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