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New occupation of residential premises casts fresh doubt over effectiveness of Anti Squatting Laws

  • Blog
  • 31st October 2013
  • By Alta Blue

A little over a year has elapsed since the introduction of the Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LAPOA) on the 1st September 2012, in which the squatting of residential properties was made a criminal offence.

We expressed doubts as long ago as the 4th July 2012, about the likely effectiveness of the new legislation, via Twitter. (See link ) There were two points in particular that we highlighted.

The first of those was the temptation to use squatting as a means of protest. We said of this at the time,

…..we have no doubt that this section of the Act will prove fertile ground for subsequent challenges under Human Rights Act legislation as there will be many keen to make a political point out of it all.”


 “…from our experience (on the basis of paraphernalia recovered from squatted properties) many squatters are ideologically driven. The on going world financial crisis has undoubtedly polarised opinion in way that we have not seen since the early 1980’s. For many squatting is a symbol of an on going class struggle against capitalism, and the publicity arising from contested criminal proceedings may prove irresistible to many.”

The second was the willingness of the Police to enforce this legislation. We said,

The effectiveness of this law will only be as good as the Police willingness to enforce it. In London for example the terrorist threat places great demands on the Police budget, at a time when Police budgets are being curtailed. It is difficult to foresee how clamping down on squatters is likely to become a top Policing priority. There may be regional variations depending on local Policing priorities.”

It was reported in the Evening Standard on the 29th October that a group of squatters moved into an expensive Council House owned by Southwark Borough Council on the 28th October, shortly after it was sold at auction for just under £3M.

The protest was reported to be a political one against the sale of council housing stock that could have been be used for social housing. Protesters claim that the reason that the Police have not enforced the legislation, is because this protest is a political one.

This raises an interesting point; as we assume then that there is likely to a challenge to the wording of the offence that states that the trespasser is “living” or “intends to live” in the building for any period. So does occupation under shifts for the purposes of political protest amount to “living” in an unoccupied residential property?

Well that may well be for the judiciary to decide in due course, and no one can really predict the outcome of that decision if it does reach the Courts, as we suspect it may.

What creates greater uncertainty also is why the Police have not intervened, to date that is? It may be a simple case of it being low on the list of local Policing priorities.

We also think that what might explain their reluctance to be involved is that they have taken the point about political protest, and could be thinking about the ramifications of litigation for unlawful arrest and detention, until such time as this potential challenge is settled.

We believe that the Southwark squatters protest has the potential to cast real doubt over the legal protection that residential home owners were thought to enjoy since last September; and that residential properties remain highly vulnerable and more attractive than ever to squatters since its criminalisation.

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