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Ordered Out

Public Order and Housing Chaos
A briefing on the effects of The Criminal Justi ce
and Publi c Order I3i1l on the rights of squatters,
tenants and the homeless.
~ U A S H
l I
2 SI. Paul's Road,
London N I 2QN
Tel: 071 226 8938
Ordered Out
Public Order and Housing Chaos
4. Introducti on.
S. Squatting - a growing threat?
6. Are squatters jumping the queue?
7. Do squatters exclude people from their
8. Current criminal and civil procedures.
9. A new Rent Act?
10. TIle need for extension to the
Criminal Law.
II. Abuse of the Criminal Law.
Public Order and the new proposals.
12. Homelessness, the real problem.
13. The real squatters.
Ordered Out
In October t 991 the Home Office
published a consultation paper
setling out ilS reasons for wanting to
change the law on squatting. 216
replies were received during the
consul tati on period, but the I lome
Office has declined to publish them.
All the housing charities including
opposed to strengthening the law,
as are the Law Society, The Housing
Law Practitioners Association, The
Association of Metropolitan Authori -
ties, The Poli ce Federation and the
Association of Chief Police Officers.
Numerous law centres are also
against any change to the law.
All these organisations recognise
squatting for what it is: a symptom of
llritain's housing crisis and not a law
and order issue. They also recognise
that applying public order laws to
housing ri ghts has serious implica-
tions. In fact, the proposals before
parliament are likely to create public
order disturbances by removing
police officers from potentially
violent situations.
It seems the consultation exercise
was a mere formality as the paper
has been followed by the inclusion of
clauses 56, 57 and new clauses 69, 70
and 71 in the Criminal Justice and
PubliPublic Order Dill 1990.
The Clauses
(At the time or going to press)
Clauses 56 and 57 will allow
the owner of a property to apply to
a civil court for a new "Interim
Possession Order" whi ch will be
heard ex-parte. This proposed
procedu re is without precedent in
British Law as the occupier will not be
allowed [Q attend or to make
representations LO the courlS. Once such
an order has been granted the occupiers
will have 24 hours to leave. Fail ure to
do so will result in a criminal offence
being commi tted and the risk of arrest
New Clauses 69 and 70 are
amendmcnlS to Sections 6 and 7 of
the Cri minal Law Act 1977. The existing
law provides crimi nal sanctions in any
case where a squatter deprives an
owner, l ong-lease holder or Publi c
Sector tenant of their home. (This
includes those intending to move in as
well as t hose displaced by squatters.)
The new clauses extend these sanctions
to private tenants and leaseholders with
conSiderably shorter leases.
New CL. '\use 71 will allow people
in the above situations (or their agents)
to use violence to secure evictions thus
removing the need for the presence of
the poli ce.
The removal of the right to a court
hearing will almost cenainly result in
the eviction (or even arrest) of innocent
parties by unscrupulous landlords or
inefficient local authorities. New Clause -
71 will help such local authorities to
keep property empty in ci rcumstances
where corruption will nourish.
These proposals have been put
forward in an atmosphere where
misconceptions and myths associated
with squatting have carri ed more weight
than informed debate and consultation.
Thi s briefing is a response to some of
the more common misconceptions in
order to provide M Ps, peers and other
interested parties with a more balanced
appraisal of squatting, squalters and the
implications of the new proposals.
Ordered Out
Squatting - a growing threat to the rights
of the individual property owner?
A fundamental error in the
Consultation paper (CP), which has
lead to the adoption of new clauses 69
and 70, lay in its emphasis on
squatting in homes owned by private
individuals. ~ T e n thousand people" it
is claimed in a summaI)' of one
paragraph (CP - para 17), apply 10 the
couns eadl year for a possession
order. Equaling the number of
individual property owners with the
number of applications made in one
year (9,698) disguises the facI thaI Ihe
vast majority of these applications will
have been multiple and made by a
small number of local authorities,
housing assodations and commercial
organisations. In fact the great majority
of squats are in empty public sector
housing (owned by local authorities or
housing associations). Of the
Local Authorities· 741%
I lousing AssociatiOns · 16.5%
remainder, some belong to other
public bodies (eg the Departmenl of
Transport, The Ministry of Defence,
I3ritish Rail etc. Others belong to large
commerdal concerns. These have
often been empty for even longer than
council stock, and are usuall y in
advanced states of decay.
'J11e AdviSOry Service for
Squallers (ASS) operales a daily advice
service for squatters, licensees and
other homeless people, advising about
I SO people every week. f rom April 10
September 1991 it collated information
from over 2,<XXJ squats and found that
over 9Q01o of these properties were
owned by local authorities or housing
associations. Less than 1 % of the
properties were found 10 be owned by
individuals. The results are printed
No. of squatted
properties surveyed.
Local Authorities. 1640
I lousing AS5OCiations. 365
Commercial Owners. 145
Government and Public Bodies. 53
· Others
Church Bodies.
Owner,<,hlp Disputed.
Others" . 0.5%
Total 2213
Government & Public Bodies · 2.3%
Commercial Owners - 6.6%
Ordered Qui
Are squatters ' jumping the queue?'
"It is unfair that local authority properties
should be squatted when there are such
long housing lists in certain areas."
(Kenneth Baker. Hansard, page 160, 15/10/91.)
It is often claimed that, by
squatLing, people are stealing a march
on those who have put their names on
council housing lists. In fact, in most
parts of the counLry, very few people
are housed Simply because they are on
this list. Councils nowadays
accommodate only those to whom they
have 'statutory' duties, regardless of
whether they are on the list or no1. In
addition, the practice of 'choking off
demand' through rulings of 'intentional
homelessness' has become a wide-
spread and often cynically deployed
instrument of housing policy in many
nlOse able to establish that Lhey
are homeless and in 'priority need' are
placed in temporary accommodation
as a matter of course - which invariably
means a long stay in a bed-and-
breakfast hotel. 1\ is no surprisc then
that many squatters have been on the
waiting list for years and a high proportion
of squats (about one thi rd) contain families
who have either not been apprised of their
statutory rights, or have opted to s q u a ~ as
3:n escape from an often intolerable and
interminable stretch in bed-and-breakfast
In fact the Government are proposing
to scrar the obligation of local authorities
to provide permanent housing for those
not regarded as statutory homeless.
Families will literally have to be on the
street before they will be considered for
accommodation, and even then they will
only be offered temporary respite from the
streets, probably in bed and breakfast or
private seClor insecure tenancies.
If these proposals arc adopted many
more families will have no other option but
to squat in order to proVide a roof for
themselves and their children.
Some Heasons For Squatting. Percentage of squallers.
Women escaping domc<;tic violence. 3.1
People declared intentionally homel ess. 6.3
People made homeless through mortgage default. 4.7
People moving from secure accornodation· 5.3
Students unable \0 obtain other accornodatior1 7.9
Analysis of squallers
• oWing \0 ovcrcrowdlng, racial harrassment or hcalth h2z2rds.
Those with childcn under 16 - 32.2% Women under 30,
without children - 17.7%
Men under 30,
without children - 21.8%
i'I--- Men over 30,
without children - 14.6%
Women over 30,
Flgun.-s taken from ASS s urvey o f
22H squ:lnoo propcrtk'l'> between
Ap ri l and September 199 1.
without children · 13.7%
Ordered Out
Are squatters excluding people from their homes?
"No matter how compelling the squatters' own
circumstances are claimed to be by their apologists,
it is wrong that legitimate occupants should be
deprived of the use of their property. " (CP para 5)
Section 7 of t.he Criminal Law
Act (977) makes it a crimi nal
offence to refuse to leave a propeny
when asked to do so by or on behalf
of a 'displaced residential occupier'.
The same proccdure is available to a
'protected intcnding occupier', ie an
incoming tcnant of a local authority
or housing association, or somcone
who has recentJy bought a propeny
and intends to livc lhcrc.
Generall y, squatters will not
move into properties that are in a
lettable condition because they know
that their stay will be a shon one.
Indeed, thousands of squatters have
chosen to establish homes in
propcnies so far advanced in
dereliction that their owners have all
but given them up as beyond repair.
Although local aut horities claim that
squaucrs prevcnt peoplc being
houscd from the 'waiting list', it is a
fact tbat eve!), local authority has
many more homcs standing empty
than are squatted.
Estimated number of empty homes in i3ritain; 864,000 (DOE).
Estimated number of
squatted properties in Brit ain; 17,000 (ASS).·
'/ want to help those responlible people who bave put themselves into accomodalion
because tbey bave seem tbat II is empty. I tbink II is fair to say tbat !Xiry deep in Con-
seroative philosophy is that of self-belp mId if people are prepared to try to help them-
selves and if they see a property is empty and no aile is using II alld by moving in
they are not going to hurt anYOlle, bw tbey will protect and help their oum family,
surely we ought to encourage tbat ....... you could argue they are perhaps more so-
cially responsible in finding empty property and squatting ill there and giving their
family a home than putting tbem ill bed & breakfast."
(IJob Hughes, MI', speaking on The London I'rogrnmmc, May 1989.)
Ordered Out
Do the current criminal and civil procedures for the
recovery of squatted property really work to the
advantage of the squatter at the expense of the owner?
"Concern aboUithe civil remedies centres on the time It can take to
regain possession and the expense. Squatters may well know and
exploit the requirements of the civil process ..... " (CP para 33)
The consultation paper alleged
that exisLing civil procedures are slow,
expensive and unwieldy but neglected
to menLi on that in cases of urgency
(and under expedited proceedings) the
noLice period of 7 days can he severely
cunailed and an effcctive possession
order obtained in substamially less
than a week. (Even where urgency is
not proven, there is no reason why
possession should not be regained in
three weeks. 'l his is dcmonstrated by
this advenisemcnt from the Estatcs
Gazelle, 30/ 11 /9 1).
If this is the advice you've
been getting, then isn'1 i1 1ime
you consuhed
........... ' ''1 __
2,458 applications under summary
(squatters) proceedings FAILED in the
County COUll in 1989 (CI' para 17).
'Ihis can only suggest that many al-
leged squatters were in fact tenants or
licensees, and in addition that councils
were attempLing to evict families to
whom they had a statutory duty.
Mr. Maclean (Con): "111e lIonour-
able Member for Cardiff .... quoted
staLisLics to the effect that there were
2,000 legal oc(1Jpiers under the present
civil proceedings orders. ' I hat is not
true. In most cases the squatters left
voluntarily, so no order was sought.
That perhaps is where he got the figure
of 2,000. The number of legal defences
was very small." (l iansard, Standing
Committee 13, 10th Feb. 94, col 675)
Squatted properties are rarely
defended in the courts and, far from
being hoodwinked by squatters (as the
CP seemed to suggesu, judges have no
discreLion LO dismiss an application for
possession unless a triable issue is
raised, and often do not do so even
then. Contrary to Mr. Maclean's ill-
informed specula Lion, squatters leaving
voluntarily will never lead to a case
being dismissed.
' I he Home Office was particularly
concerned with the- phenomenon of
"shop-squatling" claiming it often in·
volved "the use of electricity without
payment" (CI' para 32). Where this
occurs the police already have powers
to arrest those responsible and charge
them with theft. Neither is it true that an
owner is prevented by secLion 6 of the
Criminal law Act 19n from a
pane of glass in his own front door to
obtain entry" (CI' para 26a). An offence
would only take place if there were
someone on the premises opposed to
his cnlly. On fact a displaced residenLial
occupier would not be commitLing an
offcnce even if the squaltcrs were in
physi«ll occupation.) Thus the law falls
a long way short of making squalters
"almost invulnerable" (CP para 8).
Ordered Out
Tenants, licencees and homeless families; A new Rent Act?
Neil Gerrard (Lab. Walthamstow):
"Will the honourable Lady clarify whether she means that a
person in rent an'ears should be treated as a squatter?"
Lady Olga Maitland (Can.):
"/ would indeed regard such people as squatters. "
(Hansa rd, Standing Committee 13, 10t h Feb 94, col 664.)
The prospect of ex pane
proceedings in "squauing" cases is
fraught with dangers. The abolition
of a court hcaring prior to eviction
will certainly increase the temptation
for private landlords to try this quick
route to repossession. Tenams and
licensees who have not signed a
contract, pay rent in cash, have
withheld renl in lieu of outstanding
repairs or simply have fallen into
rent arrears will be espccially
vulnerable to unscrupulous
landlords misrepresenting them as
The proposed offence of making
a false statement under the new
procedure (carrying a sentence of 2
years imprisonment) is unlikely to
be effective. Landlords who try to
mislead the courts under the present
system commit the much morc
serious offence of perjury (which
carries a sentence of 7 years in
prison) but even this has not been
an adequate deterrent.
What may not be appreciated is
that public sector tenants will also
be at ri sk. Almost every week the
ASS see cases of council tenants and
occasionally those of I lousing
Associations mistakenly procceded
against as allegedly unknown
squatters. The protection of a court
hearing is crucial to aU ow such
errors to be rectified and avoid the
prospect of legitimate tenants being
thrown on to the streets.
The offence of making a false
statement is unlikely to affect
councils and housing associations as
it is required to be done "knowingly
or recklessly" and this is unlikely LO
cover the common situation of
administrative muddle.
Families unlawfully denied
hOUSing by thei r local authorities
and those fleei ng intolerable
conditions of harassment will also
be hard hit by the proposed
legislation. Famili es in such
circumstances account for one third
of squatters, and the coun hearing
before an eviction can prove vital.
Defendants can apply to have
thei r case adjourned whil st they take
judicial review proceedings against
thdr local aut hority to assert their
right to appropriate housing.
Generally the council witl face up to
their obligations at this point and
allow the proceedings to lapse. The
proposed legislation would deny
these people the opportunity to
have such issues resolved in open
court whilst retaining a roof over
their heads, and thus removes a last
line of defence for some of the most
vulnerable in housing need.
Ordered Out
Is there a need to extend the scope of the Criminal Law?
The existing provisions of
Seclion 6 of the Criminal Law Act
1977 make it an offence for a person
lO use violence to secure entry to
any premises, providing there is a
person on the premises opposed to
the entry. It protects owners and
tenants as well as squatters.
However, the offence can not be
committed by a "Displaced
residential occupier" (ORO). Once
entry has been obtained, trespassers
may be evicted using ureasonablc
force" .
Seclion 7 of the same Act
defines status of DRO and also
provides for cenain persons to be
intending occupiers"
A Pia is someone who requires
the premises for his/ her residence "at
that lime". It is already an offence for
a trespasser to fail to leave on being
asked to do so by or on behalf of a
ORO or Pia, and the police have
powers of arrest.
There are two types of PIO,
which may be described as "private
seClQr" and sector".
(a) A private Pia must currently
be a freehold owner or hold a lease
with at least 21 years remaining, and
must sign a certificate stating the
brief facts in the presence of a
Jusli ce of the Peace or Commissioner
for Oaths. The Act includes penalties
for a private Pia who makes a false
(b) A "public sector" PIO needs
to have been "authorised to occupy"
the premises "at that time by a local
authority or housing association.
The significant difference lies in the
cenificate. It is simply issued by the
landlord body, there is no
requirement for it to be signed in
the presence of a Justice of the
Peace, nor arc there any penalties in
cases where a false statement is
!\'cw Clauses 69 and 70 seem to
extend the existing act to cover
private tenants, licensees and
leaseholders with 2 years or more
remaining. It is unclear why these
new clauses arc needed, considering
that there is no evidence whatever
of private tenants being prevented
from occupying their homes by
In 17 years of monitoring the
Act, ASS has not recorded a Single
instance of the use of a
type of PIO certifi cate, nor of
anyone being required to leave by a
genuine DHO, indicating the very
low incidence of squatting in such
properties. The proposed clauses
are therefore unlikely to have any
ar>plication in genuine cases. They
will , however, create a temptation
for unscrupulous landlords to grant
short term tenancies ( 0 their
associates specifically to take
advantage of the legislation and
remove unwanted occupiers, who
may not be trespassers at all or
whose status may be in doubt and
require the determinalion of the
Ordered Out
Abuse of the Criminal Law at present and in the future.
I n the public sector the existing
Act is systematically abused by a
number of local authorities, who
lake advantage of the lack of
penalti es to routinely issue alleged
P[O certifi cates whenever premises
are squatted. The abuse is most
clearl y evidenced by the fact that
large numbers of properties affected
remain empty indefinitely, and no
tenant moved in. Indeed, in some
cases the properties have been
vandalised by the council to
PREVE;,\,T ocrupation. It is clear that
at present the public sector PIO
provisions are abused to enable
inefficient local authorities to keer
large numbers of their rrorerties
In the light of such widespread
abuse, there is no logical reason
why local authorities and housing
associations should Ix: exempt from
the penalties imposed on private
P[Os who make false statements,
parti cularly as it is in the public sector
that established abuses ocrur. Nor is
there any reason why the
requirements for private PIOs to sign
a certi ficate in front of a Justice of the
Peace should not be extended to
local authorities.
The PIO procedure is a drastic
one, enabling the supervision of the
courts to be bypassed, and it is
important that its use is confined to
genuine cases.
[n 1989, the Advisory Service For
Squatters monitored 26 flats in the
London Borough of Il ackney which
had been subject to PIO certificates
issued by that local authority. All the
squatters ldt i n order for the
incoming tenants to move in. The
evictions took place between 14/9/89
and 30/ 5/ 91. On the 21/7/ 91 ten of
the nats were still empty.
Public Order and the new proposals.
;\!ew Clause 71, which will
enable PIOs of both tyres or their
agents to use violence to evict
trespassers will render such abuses
even more dangerous. There is a
grave danger that this extension or
the frecdom to carry Ollt violent
entry to PIOs and their agcnls (ie
the landlord body itself) will result
i n the creation of a new breed of
private bailiffs employed for the
purpose. Thi s is totally unnecessary
as the police can currently arrest
occupiers who fail to leave in
genuine cases and the property can
then be repossessed. Such bailiffs
will be unaccountable to anyone but
the landlord.
The removal of the police from
such situations is bound to result i n
breaches of the peace, and maybe
even assaults. It is indeed ironic that
the proposals of a Publ ic Order J3ill
may be removing the police from
potential threats to publi c order.
Ordered Out
Homelessness, The Real Problem
"/ can forsee police involved in the forcible eviction f rom premises and those
premises remaining emply, boarded up and people saying: "Was it necessary?"
I can see the problem of making criminals of people who are desperate to get their
Jives back in balance. Someone who has been made redundant, someone who
squats in premises - who pays jor gas, electricity and water. Along comes a
policeman and evicts them. That's not what I joined the police for and I don't think
a lot oj people did. "
Sgt Mi ke Bennctl, Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation.
The i nclusion of measures to
combat squauing in a Criminal Justice
and Public Order Bill is ill-conceived.
Squatting is not a law and order issue
but a short term solution to an ever
escalating housing crisis.
There are many factors affecting
homelcssness i ncluding; thc sale of
council properties, the closure of
hostels, the introduction of the 1988
Housing Act, the discharge of patients
with mental health problems into the
community, the withdrawal of Housing
Benefit for students and teenagers,
prohibitively expensive deposits for
entrance to the private rented sector
and the eviction of home owners who
have been unable to meet their
mortgage repayments.
Apart from this we also have:
, Proposed changes to benefit
regulations will exclude many
thousands of people from I l ousing
• The proposed reduction of
7,000 personnel in the armed forces
will result in more homeless ness.
Hesearch shows that 25% of people
sleeping rough have formerly been in
the armed services.
• The Government 's I lomel ess-
ness Review wi ll remove obligat ions on
local authorities to provide permanent
housing for homeless families in
priori ty need.
, Single people are being
progressively squeezed out of "short
life" housi ng, as housi ng associati ons
and co-ops are forced to cl ose their
waiting li sts to cope wi th council
• Government proposals affecting
planning permission applications for
hotels taking in rcsidents dcpendcnt on
benefits will threaten the very existence
of such hotels and cause widespread
homclcssncss, especially in coastal
The only way to eradicate squatting
is to tackle the underl ying issues that
cause it , ie empty property and
homeless ness.
Some positive measures would be:
• The extension of licences to the
occupiers of disused and neglected
• The reinstatement of security of
tenure and realistic rent levels for private
• The rechanelli ng of funds
received by the Government from the
sale of ] .2 million council homes, to
build new homes and renovate publicly
owned empty property.
• The expansion of self build
schemes to those unable to afford shared
ownership and of mortgage-ta-rent
schemes for those in mortgage arrears.
• The restoration of I l ousing
Benefit and Income Support to students
and those aged 16-19.
• The creation of an independent
deposits authority to prevent landlords
withholding deposits under false
• The introduction of DSS loans to
prospective tenants to cover deposits and
entry costs.
Ordered Out
Who are the squatters?
"/s the Home Secretary C/wa re that many of those
wbo engage in squCltting .... are often aggressive,
intolerant and intimidating?"
(Sir John Wheel er, MP. Hansard, Page 155, 15/ 10/91.)
"Anti-social parasites" (Kenneth Baker)
" that 's why we'll gel tough on amzed robbers, get laugh on rapists and get
tough On squauers." (Kcnncth Baker in response to rising crime figures.)
We hope that the following case histories will go some way to
re·balancing what legal Action Magazine described as "false stereotypes"
(November 91). These, and thousands of others, are the real squatters;
Anja (23) and Peter (31), piC-
tured with Freia (3) and Finn (-1
months) have been squatting in a
council property in Lambeth for the
last four years. Before giving birth I : : : i = ~
to Finn, Anja qualified as a cabinet· l'.i
makerj Peter is studying to become
a tcacher. When they first moved
in, the property had been gutted
by fire and lacked evcn the most
basic amenities. They invested a
great deal of their time and energy,
as well as the little money they
had, in making it habitable once
marc. Struggling to bring up two
children without the income derived
from full or even parHimc employ·
ment, they havc not had the means to
rent privately. Thcy have recently
become licensees of Lambeth Council.
Ordered Oul
Terry (28), pictured with
Julius and Kieren (both aged 8),
has been squalli ng in a Hackney
Council flat for two years. She
moved from Sheffield in order to
John (28) and Sophie <3'1),
pictured with Anouk (4) and
Armel (2), are squalling in a block
of flaLS in Il ackney. It is owncd by
a holding company. John is
unemployed, Sophie is a pOllcr.
Their block had been gUlled by
fire prior to their moving in a year
ago. Six of the scven flats in the
block have not been tcnanted
since 1988, the year of the fire.
The family had been living in
housi ng association temporary
accommodation in which they had
been placed in by Il ackney
Borough Council. Their flat was
burgl ed four times in two months.
After ineffective representations to
the housing associalion, and being
told that they would be declared
study as a midwife. Iler
bursary would not cover the
cost of renting privately and
her applications to be housed
by the Council have nm
elicited any offer of
permanent accommodation.
When she moved in to the flat
she now squats, it was in an
advanced state of disrepair.
There was no electricity, no
tOilet, the roof leaked and the
properly suffered from serious
subsidence. Barring the
subsidence, she has since
made good all the repairs
necessary to make the
properly habitable. When she
last spoke to the Council , they
told her they would not rc-
house her until she had been
evicted and was thus
'intentionally homeless' if they
moved out, they fclt that they were
left with no alternative but to squat.
Hod (22) works in a pizza
restaurant. li e squats in a council flat in
Camden which has ocen untenanted for
at least a decade. li e earns £100 a week.
lie is not eligible to be housed by the
council and cannot afford the huge
deposits being asked by local landlords.
Patrick (25) squats in a council
flat in Camden after being evicted
three times in one year. I lis present
home has chronic subsidence and has
been empty for five years. lie is on a
Government training scheme is
entitled to £50 a week ocncfil, and
hopes to occomc a joiner. WAs an
able-bodied single person I have no
cha nce of being housed by the
Council , and there's no way I could
hope to save the money required to
pay a deposit for private renting out
of the money [ get each week . And
that 's even if r could rei}' on the DSS
to make housing benefit payments
Ineligible for housing from
her local council, Carol (29),
pictured with Zachary (J I
moved into a squatted council
pr9PCny in Lambeth whi ch had
extensive fire damage. After the
binh of Zachary, she fell within the
category of ' priority need' but chose
to rema in where she was in
preference to a long stay in bcd-
and-breakfast. Like Anja and Peter,
she has recently become :1 licensee
of Larnlx:th Council.
Ordered Out
© SQUASH 199-1
Squatters Action for Secure Ilomes