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squatting ban could raise homelessness

squatting ban could raise homelessness (Refuge / Emergency Accommodation)

by administrator @, Thursday, July 14, 2011, 20:31

Government paper says squatting ban could raise homelessness

Proposals to criminalise squatting could increase homelessness and put pressure on the police and council housing departments, the government’s impact assessment of its policy has said.

The paper, which assesses the effect of the plans on various groups, said the proposals could further damage the health of people already suffering from mental health problems and drug addiction.

The government is making the plans in response to complaints from MPs, businesses and members of the public about squatting and several high profile cases reported in the media.

The Ministry of Justice said criminalising squatting would send the message that “squatting is wrong”.

The government is also looking at other options, such making it an offence for squatters to refuse to leave commercial property when asked to do so – a similar law already applies in residential premises.

Another option is to repeal section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 which makes it an offence to use violence or threats to gain entry to a property when someone inside is opposed to entry.

However this law was introduced to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords and so the government is loathe to repeal it. It is also considering leaving the law unchanged but helping the police to enforce existing legislation on offences likely to be committed by squatters such as criminal damage, abstraction of electricity and burglary.

To do nothing “may perpetuate the message that squatting is in some way acceptable”, the report said.

The paper said there are no figures on the number of squatters in England and Wales but county courts granted 216 interim possession orders in 2010 under part 55(3) of the Civil Procedure Rules, which is an accelerated process designed for evicting trespassers from premises.

Additionally 531 ordinary possession orders were granted against trespassers under Part 55(1) of the rules, but some of these orders may have related to land rather than buildings.

Landlords said the plans did not go far enough. David Salusbury, National Landlords Association (NLA) chairman,said criminalising squatters would not solve the problem on its own.

He said: “At present, it can take landlords upwards of three months to lawfully regain possession of their property from squatters. The NLA would like to see landlords being able to demand that squatters leave immediately, and also automatically regain lawful possession.

The police should be able to support landlords in such action through amendments to their existing statutory powers, such as exclusion notices which should prevent the squatters from returning. We would like to see the Government put the rights of property owners at the core of this policy.”

But homelessness charity Crisis said the plans did nothing to deal with homelessness.The charity’s chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “Criminalising squatting does nothing to tackle the underlying issues faced by homeless people and that is their homelessness.

If the government really wants to end the misery of squatting - for those who have no other option - it must provide better housing and support, not criminalise some very vulnerable people.” The charity’s research found 39 per cent of homeless people have resorted to squatting to get off the streets.

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