Today is a sad day. A young man has been jailed for living in an empty property.
Presumably, like many thousands of people trying to live in London, he couldn’t find somewhere more secure, or couldn’t afford it.
The new law, Section 144 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 criminalises homeless people while doing nothing about the speculation, inefficiency and greed that lead to thousands of properties remaining empty and unused.
According to the Evening Standard one man has been jailed for 12 weeks, a woman is awaiting sentencing and a third person was fined £100. They had been living in the property for some time and the owners had taken normal civil procedures to get the property back, and had not felt the need to involve the police.
The new law was brought in against a background of media myths. The Evening Standard today is saying “The law was brought in amid a squatting crisis in London as organised eastern European gangs and other squatters targeted family homes”.
Squatters never target people’s homes, they move into empty properties. Even before the new law was brought in it was illegal to try to squat a property where somebody was living or was intending and needing to live.
The word “home” was used by the media in new and strange ways, meaning buildings that had previously been somebody’s home but had been rented out to other people since.
If the stories printed by the press had been true the police would have intervened and charged the people involved. This did not happen.
Squatting has been widespread in England and Wales, particularly in London, since the late 1960s. It happens throughout the world, including in countries where it is illegal. There is no reason to think it will be going away.
The new law only criminalises trespass in a residential property for the purpose of living there. There are many circumstances where people will be able to squat, to arrange licences with owners, and otherwise find ways to live in properties that would otherwise be empty.
The Advisory Service for Squatters has been in existence for 37 years, advising and supporting squatters and other homeless and vulnerably housed people. We expect to be around for some time to come.