The Case Against Section 144

SQUASH Report, March 2013

The most recent report from Squatter’s Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) regarding the impacts of criminalising squatting in empty residential property (s144 LASPO) on housing, homelessness, civil rights and democracy in England and Wales.

From the Executive Summary

SQUASH has collected and analysed information to produce a six-month impact analysis of the criminalisation of squatting in residential properties (S144, Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, 2012). Relevant literature and reports on the current housing crisis, empty properties, homelessness and squatting in England and Wales have been used to provide a context for a wider analysis of the after-effects of S144.

The Case against s144

The report’s findings suggest the major concerns with criminalisation that arose during the government’s consultation process have manifested, with homeless and vulnerable people disproportionately affected. The lack of data being kept by councils and Police forces is deeply troubling, and suggests many of these people have been forced into even more precarious forms of hidden homelessness.

Given the magnitude of the housing crisis and the huge rise in homelessness we are currently facing, this law has critically narrowed the options for many, and is sending homeless people to prison for seeking shelter in empty buildings.

The report is divided into four main sections that analyse different aspects of S144.

1) The Undemocratic section takes into consideration the process that led to this new criminal law. Our research highlights the unusually short parliamentary process, which gave very little time for scrutiny, and the government’s consultation process, which saw 96% of the respondents being ultimately ignored.

2) The Unjust section, by exposing the irrefutable link between squatting and homelessness, shows who the law is most harshly affecting. Case studies of people arrested and prosecuted in the past six months are presented in order to give concrete examples of the law enforcement.

3) The Unnecessary section outlines the prior adequacy of the Criminal Law Act 1977 for dealing with squatting, and raises some concerns about the enforcement of the new offence and the lack of data being collected.

4) Finally, the Unaffordable section analyses the financial aspects associated with S144. By taking into account direct (e.g. evictions, arrests and prosecutions) and indirect (e.g.rehabilitation and housing benefits) enforcement costs the analysis provides some up-to-date figures on the financial impact of the law.

As a result of these findings, SQUASH are launching a campaign calling for a repeal of S144 LASPO and at the very least we are calling for a full independent impact assessment before further criminalisation is even discussed. The situation at the moment is dire, and with substantial cuts to welfare provision taking effect from April 1st, things can only get worse.

The Report has been endorsed by:

Professor Danny Dorling, University of Sheffield

Dr Kesia Reeve, Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Alex Vasudevan, University of Nottingham

John McDonnell (Labour MP Hayes & Harlington)

Baroness Miller (Lib-Dem)

Read SQUASH’s Press Release here

The Full Report: “The Case Against section 144”
(SQUASH, March 2013)

Download the report (PDF 890kb)

The Case Against Section 144