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A CRIME TO BE HOMELESS?
A briefing on the
criminallsation of squatting.
2 St. Paul's Road,
London Nl 2QN
Te l: 071 2268938
According to section 58 of the Housing
Act 1985, every squatter is homeless.
The Government intends to make squatti ng
illegal. Tn Octohe r 1991 the Tlome Office published
a consultation paper sett ing out its reasons for
wanting to change the law on ' Ih at paper,
and the parli<lmenrary debme which accompanied
its release, recapitulated (he myths and misconcep-
tions which have been assuciat t:d wilh -squatting.
Sqll::urers have had few oppurrunities to
present the ir casco is a response to
some of the miscollCl:pUOW, in onlt'r tv proviut' MP.-;
and other inTerested panics wilh a more hal:mced
appraisal of squatt ing, squatters and the implica-
tions of criminalisation, before a bill is presented to
1. Squatting - a growing threat to the rights of the
individual property owner?
A fundamental e rror in the
Consuhation Paper eep) lies in its
emphasis on squauing in homes
owned by pri vate indi viduals. "Ten
thousand people", it is claimed in a
summaI)' of one pamgmph (ep para
17), apply to the courlS each year for
a possession order. Equating the
number of individual property own-
ers with the number of applications
made in onc year (9,698) disguises
the fact that the vast majority of these
applications will have been multiple
and made by a small number of local
authorities, housing associations and
commercial organisations. In fact, the
great majority of squats arc in empty
public-sector hOllsing (ic owned by
local authorities or housi ng associa-
tions). Of the remainder, some b e ~
long to other public bodies (eg the
l.ocal Authorities ~ 74.1 %
I [olLsin,l.\ Associ;lIions - 16.'i%
Department of Transport , the Minis-
try of Defence, British Rail etc.) and
others belong ( 0 large commercial
concerns. These have often been
empty for even longer than council
srock, and are usually in advanced
states of decay.
The Advisory Service for
Squatters (ASS) opemtcs a daily
advice sClVice for squatters, liccnsces
and other homeless people, adviSi ng
about 150 people every week. From
April to September 1991 it collated
infon11ation from over 2,000 squats
and found that over 90% of these
prupeI1ies were owned by local
authorities or housing associations.
Less than 1% of the properties were
found [ 0 be owned by individuals.
The results are printed below.
Nn. of squatted
Laea I Authorities. 1640
I lousing Associations. 365
Commercial Owners. 145
Government and Public Bodies. S3
Church Bodies. 4
Ownership Disputed. 1
Others· - 0.5%
Government & Public Bodies - 2.3%
Commercial Owners - 6.6%
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2. Are squatters 'jumping the queue?'
'1t is unfair that local authority properties
should be squatted when there are such
. long housing lists in cerlain areas. "
(Kenneth Baker. Hansard, page 160, 15/1O/9l.)
It is often claimed that , by
squatting, people are stealing a
march on [hose who have put their
names on council hOUSing lists. In
fact, in most parts ofrhe country,
very few people are housed because
they are on this list. Councils nowa-
days accommodate only those [Q
whom they have 'statut.ory' duties,
regardless of whether they are on the
list or not. In addition, the practice of
'choking off demand' through rulings
of ' intentional homelessne5s' has
become a widespread and often
cynically deployed instrument of
housing policy in many boroughs.
Those able to establish that
they are homeless and in 'priority
need' are placed in tempomry ac-
commodation as a matter of course -
which invariably means a long stay
in a bed-and-breakfast hotel. It is no
surprise then that many squauers
have been on the waiting list for
years and a high propoltion of squat'5
(about one third) contain families
who have either not been apprised
of their statutory rights, or have
opted to squat as an escape from an
often intolerable and interminable
stretch in bed-and-breakfast accom-
Some Reasons For Squatting. Percentage of squatters.
Women escaping domestic violence. 3.1
Peoplc decl,lfcd intentionally homeless. 6.3
People made homeless through mortgage default. 4.7
People moving from secure accomodation • 5.3
Students unable to obtain other accomodation. 7.9
• Owing to overcrowding, racial hanassment or health hazards.
Analysis of squatters
Those wich children under 16 - 32.2% Women under 30,
wichoU[ children - 17.7%
Men under 30,
without children - 21.8%
Men over 30,
without children - 14.6%
Women over 30,
wimoU[ children - 13.7%
Figures raken from ASS survey of
2213 squalted properties between
April and september 1991.
3. 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 Ihallegitimate occL/pams should be
deprived q( the me 0/ their propel1y. "(CP para 5)
Sect ion 7 of Ihe Crimi nal Law
Act (1977) makes it a criminal of-
fence to refusc to le.:lVc a property
when asked to do so by or on behalf
of a ·uisplaced residential occupier'.
The same procedure is available to a
·protected intending occupier", Ie an
incoming tenant of a local authority
or housing association, or someone
who has recently oought a property
and to live there.
Generally. squancr:o; will not
move into that arc in a
lenable contIition because they
know lilallilcir slay will be a short
one. I ndced. thousands of squarters
have chosen 10 establi sh homes in
propcrtie:-. so f;u advanced in derelic-
tion [ha[ their owners have all bur
given rhem up as repair.
Although local authorities claim thai
squ.ut<,'rs prc\·cnt people Ix:ing
housed fromlhe ·waiting il is a
fact [hal e\'ery local aUlhority has
many morc homes standing empty
than are squalled.
Estimated number of empty homes in Britain; 768,000 (DOE).
Estimated number of
squatted properues in Britain; 17,000 (ASS) .
'1 wallt to belp tbose responSible people wbo have puttbemselves illto accomodalion
because they hUl'e seen thaI it is I think it is fair 10 fhall"(1), deep in Con-
seroali,'e pbilosopb" is that of self-belp and if people are prepared to try 10 belp them-
sell'es and if tbe)' see 1/ pro pert)' is empty and no Olle is IIsillg it tllld moving in
they are not gOillR to hurt tllIJl?ne, bllt they u'i/I protect and help their OU'II fami!)',
surely we ought to encourage !bal ...... .you could argue they are perhaps more so-
cially responsible ill filldillR empty prope,ry tllld sqllallillg ill there alld givillg their
family tI home than plilling them in bed & breakfast."
(Bob Hughes, MP, speaking on TI,e London Programme, May 1989.)
4. 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 about the 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 al-
leges that existing civil procedures
are slow, expensive and unwieldy
but neglects to mention that in cases
of urgency (and under 'expedited
proceedings') the notice period can
be severely curtailed and an effective
Possession Order can be obtained
in substamially less than a week.
(Even w here urgency is not
proven, there is no reason why
possession should not be regained
in three weeks. This is demon-
s[[atcd by this advertisement from
the Estates Gazette, 30/ 11/ 91. )
"TRESPASSERS OFF YOUR LAND
IN UNDER THREE WEEKS"
If this is the advice you've
been getling. then isn't it time
11 ............................. K.u. 1I.
ToIop'-; ,"I _15M
Gayno< I,..Ioy<I Of ""'1'IitI Suo ....
Squatted properties are rarely
defended in the courts and, far from
being hoodwinked by squatters (as
the Consultation Paper seems to
suggest), judges have no discretion
to dismiSS an application for posses-
sion unless a 'triable issue' is rai sed
and usually do not do so even then.
The fact that 2,458 applications failed
in the County Court in 1989 (CP para
17) suggests that many alleged squat-
ters were in fact tenants or licensees
and, in addition, that councils were
attempting to evict families to whom
they had a statutory duty. The pro-
posed legislation would deny such
people the right to have such triable
issues resolved in open court and
thus remove a last line of defence for
some of the most vulncmble in
The Home Office is pal1icu-
lady concerned with the phenom-
enon of 'shop squarring' claiming it
often involves "the use of electricity
without payment. " (CP pard 32).
Where this occurs the police already
have powers to arrest those responsi-
ble and charge them with theft.
Neither is it strictly true that
an owner is prevented by section 6
of the Criminailaw Act 1977 from
"breaking a pane of glass in his own
front door to obtain entry" (CP para
26a). An offence would only rake
place if there were someone on the
premises opposed to his entry. Thus
rhe law falls a long way short of
making squatters "al most invulner-
able" (CP para 8).
5. Can hostels cope with the homeless?
: ... . squatting is no answer jor the single homeless. We have
other prop'osals and measures to deal with that prohlem. In
London'this year we are making available substantially
increased investment in hostel accom.modation. "
(Kenneth Baker. Hansard, page 153, 15/ 10/91.)
If the Government succeeds
in making squatting illegal, an extra
fifty thousand people will be looking
for an alternative to sleeping rough.
The fi gures quoted by the Govern-
ment about inveSllllent i n hostel s
(Baker. Hansard, para 2, page 153,
15/ 10/ 91) do not come close [Q
satisfying (hat kind of demand. Bur
arc hostels rhe answer for the large
number of families now reduced to
squatti ng? And what of the squatte rs
who will have to forgo their posses-
sions and may have to scperare from
their pa!lnerS if they arc forced into
IncreaSing hostel accommo-
dation is a sticking-plaster approach,
covenng the wound rather than
curing if. Housing needs will be
fulfilled only when permanent move-
on accommodation is <lvai lablc.
The Government is proud to
be associated with the protection of
private property but what positive
action, bar the creati on of a few
more hostel places, is it offering as a
solution to the housing crisis?
Some posit ive measures to
improve the situation would be :
• The extension of licences to
the occupiers of djsused and ne-
• The reinstatemcnt of security
of tenure and realistic rent levels for
• The re-channelling of f unds,
generated from the income received
by Government from the sale of 1.2
million council homes, to build new
homes and renovate publicly-owned
The cxtension of self-build
,:,chclIle.') LO Lhose unable ro afford
shared ownership and of mOI1gage-
to-rent schemes for those i n mort-
• The restoration of Housing
Denefit ~ l n d Inrome SlIpport to
students and those aged 16-19;
• The creation of an independ-
ent deposits authority to prevent
landlords withholding deposits
under false pretences:
• The introduction of DSS loans
to prospect ive tenants to cover de-
pusits and orhcr emf)' costs.
6. Who are the squatters?
"Is the Home Secretmy aware that many Cit those
wJpo engage in squatting .... are often aggressive,
intolerant and intimidating?"
(Sir John Wheeler, MP. Hansard, Page 155, 15/10/91.)
"A1lti-social parasites" (Kenneth Baker)
1/ that s why we'll get tough on armed robbers, get tougb Oil rapists and get
tough 01/ squCltters." (Kenneth Baker in response to rising crime figures.)
We hope that the following case histories will go some way to fe-balanc-
ing what Legal Action Magazine described as "false stereotypes" (November
91). These, and thousands of others, are the real squatters;
Anja (23) and Peter (31),
pictured with Freia (3) and Finn (4
monehs) have been squatting in a
council property in Lambeth for the
last four years. Before giving birth
to Finn, Anja qualified as a cabinct-
maker; Peter is studying to become
teacher. When they first moved in,
the property had been gutted by fire
and Jacked even the most basic
amenities. They invested a great
of their time and energy, as wet! as
[he little money they had, in
making it habitable once morc.
Struggling to bring LIp two
children without the income
derived from full or even part-
time empl oyment, they have
not had the means to rent
privately. They have recently
become licensees of Lambeth
Terry (28), pictured with
julius and Ki eren (both aged 8),
has been squatting in a Hackney
Council fl at for two year:;. She
moved from S!·lefficld in order to
study as a midwife. Her bursary
would not cover the cost of renting
john (28) and Sophie (34),
pictured with Anouk (4) and Armel
(2), arc squatting in a bl ock of flat s
in Hacknt:y. II is owned by a hold-
ing company. j ohn i s unempl oyed.
Sophie is a potter. Their block had
been gutted by fire prior to their
moving in a year ago.
Six of the seven flats
in the block have not
been tenanted si nce
1988. the year of the
fire. The family had
been living in housing
associat ion temporal)'
which they had been
placed in b}' Hackney
Their flat was burgled
pri vately and her applicati ons to be
housed by the Council have not
elicited any offer of permanent
accommodarion. When she mo\·cd
in to the flat she now squats. it was
in an advanced state of disrepair.
There was no electri city, no toilel.
the roof leaked and [hc property
suffered from serious subsidence.
Barring the subSidence, she has
since made good all the repairs
necessary to make the property
habitabk:. When she last spoke to
the Council. they told her they
would not re-house her until shc
had been e\·icled and was thus
four times in two months. After
ineffecti ve representations to the
housi ng association, and being told
that they would be declared 'inten-
tionall y homeless' if they moved
they felt that thcy were left with no
alternative but to squat.
Rod (22) works in a pi Z;tA
restaurant. He squats in a council
flat in Camden which has been
unt enanted for at least a decade.
He earns £100 a week. He is not
eligible to be housed by the coun-
cil and cannot afford the huge
deposits being asked by local
Patrick (25) now squats in a
council Oat in Camden aftcr being
evi cted three times in onc year.
f-li s prescnt home has chronic
subsidence and has been empty
for five years. He is on a Govern-
ment training scheme and hopes
to become a joiner. He is entitled
to £50 a week benefit and says:
'·As an able-bodied single person I
have no chance of being housed
by the Council , and there's no way
I could hope ro 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 rely on the DSS to make
housing benefit payments
Ineli gible for hOUSi ng from her
local council , Carol (29), pi ctured
with Z'1chary (11 months), moved
i nt o a squatted counci l property in
Lambeth which had extensive fire
damage. After the birth of Zachary,
she fell wi thin the category of ' pri or-
ity need' but chose to remai n where
she was in preference to a long stay
in bed-and-breakfast. Like Anja and
Peter, she has recently become a
licensee of Lambeth Council.
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