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Squatting Law, A Year On: 69 Charged And One Jailed For 90 Days

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Squatting law, a year on | Alamy

Almost 70 suspected squatters have ended up before the courts in the year since it became a crime, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Ahead of the first anniversary of the government's historic move to criminalise the practice in residential buildings, campaigners said it had been "utterly absurd" and "unfair".

On September 1, 2012, the government said its new law would would "end the misery of squatting".

Many of those found guilty were handed fines, typically of around £100, others were given conditional discharges, while some received jail terms of up to 90 days.

squatters

Squatters in Bristol

Before Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, squatting was a civil offence, and homeowners had to go to court to prove people were trespassing on their property.

There were reports of homeowners left powerless after they were locked out of their houses, with so-called "squatters' rights" proving difficult to overturn in the courts.

Critics said the measure would hit desperate people unable to afford spiralling rent payments.

But the coalition promised it would "slam shut the door on squatters once and for all".

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A year ago, the then Tory Housing minister, Grant Shapps, said: "For too long, hardworking people have faced long legal battles to get their homes back from squatters, and repair bills reaching into the thousands when they finally leave.

"No longer will there be so-called squatters' rights. Instead, from next week, we're tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear: entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence."

The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, was provided by the Crown Prosecution Service and covered those charged under up to July 2013.

Separate figures, obtained from police forces around the country, revealed that 90 arrests had been made outside London since the Act came into force, on September 1, 2012, but fewer than half of those had resulted in charges.

Many forces, including Cheshire, Hertfordshire and Hampshire, had not made a single arrest in the first year, while Kent police, with 27 arrests, had been the most active outside the capital.

London's Metropolitan Police said it did not know how many suspected squatters had been arrested, but said 92 people had been charged or accepted a caution in the first six months of the Act.

A volunteer from the Advisory Service for Squatters, who gave his name as Myk, said the law was "unfair, and utterly absurd".

On its website, the group called for protests to mark the first anniversary of the legislation being passed.

"It's gone pretty badly," Myk said.

"We are hearing from a lot less people. They probably think there is not much we can do for them.

"It's made life a lot more difficult, it's meant that people have been evicted, people have been imprisoned, and people are having to go for less appropriate places because they are non-residential.

"There are still thousands of empty residential properties that are not going to be put to use.

"They were trying to make life more difficult for people who could not pay London rents.

"The law is unfair, and utterly absurd."