Criminalising squatting 'makes no sense': UK Christian group

Published 02 November 2011
UK's Christian charity Housing Justice has warned that plans to criminalise squatters will unfairly penalise homeless people.

It described the Government's amendment to the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill as "rushed".

The amendment, to be debated on Tuesday, would make it illegal for people to squat in residential property. It comes after a series of newspaper reports about homeowners returning from their holidays to find squatters living in their house.

Housing Justice said many squatters were homeless people. It points to research carried out by homeless support charity Crisis which shows that as many as 40% of homeless people have squatted at some point.

It said the research was backed up by the experiences of Housing Justice workers who have encountered "many" homeless people who had squatted before.

Under existing law, squatters can be evicted if the displaced occupier needs the home to live in. Housing Justice said the proposed amendment was particularly worrying as it would mean that anyone living in a squat would be committing a crime.

The charity fears any change to the law will cause the number of people forced to live on the streets to increase sharply.

There are believed to be tens of thousands of people squatting across the UK. At a time when homeless services and local authorities are stretched, Housing Justice said it was uncertain whether they would be able to cope with a swell in the need.

"Housing Justice is firmly opposed to banning squatting as it will only exacerbate the housing crisis," said Housing Justice director Alison Gelder.

"As homelessness figures are on the increase, to criminalise those with no home makes no sense."

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