Whatever they say…

…squatting will stay. Because whenever and wherever demand grossly outstrips supply – as it very deliberately does in our current housing ‘crisis’ – people will seek shelter in otherwise abandoned buildings. And neither Ministers and media ‘deliberately misleading‘ (otherwise known as ‘lying to’) the public nor criminalising the homeless will change that.

This spread was our response to the general odiousness of the political establishment’s centuries-old private property protection wet-dream turned lucid, messy, nightmarish reality…

Mr Hollywood vs Mujica

Mike Weatherley is the Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade. He regularly boasts that he was instrumental in the recent criminalisation of squatting – public funded property protection for the rich and prison sentences for the poor.

Like all MPs, Mike gets paid £65,738 a year; last year, he claimed an additional £24,192 in expenses for travel and accommodation. Should our MPs still find themselves short, they also have a tax-payer provided hardship fund to fall back on; nobody knows when Mike Weatherley last felt the dread-fear of an unexpected bill landing on the doormat.

In 2012, Mike did just 72 hours of work (six a month) for the Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC) and was reimbursed a total of £34,000 – he sells himself to Hollywood at the handsome rate of £422 per hour. Mike has recently been Secretary for the all-party parliamentary intellectual property group, and championed changes to copyright legislation worth £500m. The MPLC is a leader in motion picture copyright compliance, supporting legal access across five continents and more than 20 countries.

Now that he’s attained office, Jose Mujica is on a deliberate drive to make the Uruguayan presidency ‘less venerated’. He refuses to live in the official presidential palace, using it instead as a shelter for homeless people during the coldest months.

His presidential salary is about $108,000 per annum, but he donates 90% (mostly to programs for expanding housing for the poor), which leaves him with an amount comparable to that of an average Uruguayan.  In 2010, his annual personal wealth declaration was $1,800 (£1,100) – the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

He’s been dubbed the world’s poorest president, but when asked if he has enough to live on, Mujica’s response is straight-forward:

“I do fine with that amount; I have to do fine, because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less”

Illustrations by Peter Willis.

Options for Dealing with Squatting by the Ministry of Justice

In August 2011, the Ministry of Justice launched its consultation, Options for Dealing with Squatting. When the results came back, a full 96% of respondents were against criminalisation. They included homelessness charities like Shelter and Crisis, as well as the Law Society, the Magistrates Association and even the Metropolitan Police Service.

Just 6 days after the consultation responses were released, the government announced a clause to criminalise. It was debated late at night, and received almost no scrutinty what ever; the criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings was yawned through in the House by 237 votes to 13.

Here are some of the responses that were ignored by the Ministry of Justice.

Is squatting a particular problem in your area and where does it occur the most e.g. in residential  or non-residential property? Were these properties empty/abandoned/derelict before they were occupied, or were they in use?

229 – Wandsworth Council

For Wandsworth Council, as a social landlord with some 17,000 tenanted properties in management, squatting is not a particular problem. in 2010/11, the Housing Department dealt with fewer than 4 cases of squatters in both residential and non-residential premises. Where squatting has occurred, it tends to be in street properties that have been referred for sale.

55 – Persons Unknown

I think ‘problem’ is a loaded term. There is squatting in my area but these properties were abandoned and I think the problem is leaving properties unused in the first place.

56 – Persons Unknown

I do not see squatting a a problem. Yes, there are squatters in some residential property nearby. All were empty and unused before, and I see it as a positive thing that people are using them.

35 – Persons Unknown

Squatting is not a problem in my area. What is a problem, however, is the number of empty buildings that are deliberately kept empty by the owners, often project developers, who often keep them uninhabitable, waiting for a better time to do them up, or let them go derelict on purpose, in order to be able to tear them down eventually. Many of these properties are, or could be, with relatively little cost, perfectly sound houses. Property speculation is the problem, not squatting.

28 – Persons Unknown

There is minimal squatting in my area. That which I am aware of has been on abandoned farmland or empty/derelict property, where squatters have made improvements to the property.

Please provide any evidence you have gathered on the number of squats and the nature of squatting in your area or nationwide?

201 – Ealing Borough Council 

Between 1.12.07 to present, we have evicted a total of 28 squatters. (21 in the East and 7 in the West of the borough.

68 – Slough Borough Council

We have had up to 12 squats in the Borough, in the last 12months since Sept 2010. The squats have all consisted of typically Eastern European males, generally out of work, addicted to alcohol or drugs. These individuals are not in regular work and are therefore not exercising their treaty rights. They also have no recourse to public funds. There is a reluctance or direct reason for not wanting to return to their country of origin. These reasons include shame, addiction, rejection by family, relationship break up, avoidance of police or prison sentences back home and their situation or opportunities are better here in the UK.

Do you think that the current law adequately deals with squatting? Please explain your reasons.

17 – Persons Unknown

I believe that the current legislation is adequate for dealing with squatters and until the problem of empty properties is addressed it seems logical for homeless people to occupy them, if they have been empty for a long time. Most of the young people I know who are squatters improve the properties they live in.

64 – Persons Unknown

The current law seems to enable property owners to evict squatters and then leave buildings empty to fall into further decay. As a woman, I would rater walk past a squatted building at night than a decaying and empty one.

Do you think there is a need for a new criminal offence of squatting?

Law Society

Section 7 is not often used, because squatting happens infrequently, but where it is, our members report that it is extremely effective.

Metropolitan Police Service

The law is broadly in the right place, and the existing array of offences allow us to tackle the worst cases of squatting (eg. where squatters cause the homeowner to be displaced.)

82 – Persons Unknown

It has the potential of ignoring the issue of affordable homes and perpetuating the problem of homelessness. If the laws focus on the power and unacceptable evils of aggression involved in eviction, then no. If the laws look at making suitable property even temporarily available, in cities particularly, then yes.

In your experience (e.g. as displaced residential occupier or protected intending occupier or as a law enforcer), how effective is the existing offence in section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977?

71 – Persons Unknown

I have never heard any first hand reports of squatters occupying buildings that are already lived in, and I believe these stories are largely media fiction intended to manipulate people into believing that squatters pose a threat to them. If such cases exist then DROs are already adequately protected by law.

47 – Persons Unknown

In my experience, the majority of squatters occupy buildings that are not intended for living in by a DRO or PIO. The problem being that they have to move out when they return. The number of empty properties which are genuinely abandoned require only interim possession orders for owners to retake possession. We have never squatted a building whose owner needed to use section 7 of the Criminal Law Act, and similarly have never met squatters who have required it. The DRO is a media-myth, created out of all proportion to the reality of housing in London.

If any proposals in this document were to be adopted, what impact would this have on you, your organisation or those whose welfare you promote

35 – Persons Unknown

As a member of society and a resident of a country that claims to protect the vulnerable, I am concerned that new laws are more geared towards protecting the powerful against the powerless than the other way around. I would appreciate to see more compassion, and less protection of greed in changing legislation.

28 – Persons Unknown

Had the proposals to criminalise squatting been in place historically, I would now have a criminal record. With friends, we squatted an abandoned farmhouse some 30 years ago. It had been empty for about 15 years. We fixed the roof, made various repairs to the property, and tended the garden. The owner of the property was alerted to our presence when we applied for an electrical connection. We were evicted after a very short court hearing. The property was then put up for sale, and we managed to buy it. Our endeavours were supported by the Parish Council and we had much support from a range of people concerned that properties could be neglected so, to the detriment of an area and community.

13 – Persons Unknown

Groups which I am in contact with, including the London Coalition Against Poverty and the Advisory Service for Squatters would be strongly impacted, as they deal with among the most vulnerable in Britain. Many would find themselves left with no option but to sleep on the streets or in dangerously (increasingly) overcrowded hostels or face criminalisation. In Hackney, the impact of perhaps hundreds of people who are currently independent of council aid being forced to ask for help both from state and third sector bodies would be catastrophic, impacting on aid to other groups at a time where huge cutbacks are being planned for the borough.

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