Sep 252011

The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on a white paper which seeks to criminalise squatting of buildings where there is no resident. All sides of the debate are publicly making their cases. Here’s mine. (My formal response to the consultation is at the end).

The UK has various laws on squatting:

Wikipedia: Squatting in the UK (summary)
Wikipedia: Squatting in England

I have just one home, and obviously I am sometimes away for a few days, on holiday or staying with other people. If someone gets into it while I am away, and squats in it, I can get an order as a “displaced residential occupier”, and I can obtain, within a few days, an interim possession order (IPO) which will enable me to enter the premises at will. Any unlawful occupiers who refuse to leave within 24 hours of the granting of an IPO is committing a criminal offense.

To me, that is insufficient. There doesn’t appear to be a deterrent against squatting in my house in the first place, (as long as I can’t prove they broke in themselves), just against staying there after I get an IPO. That is too late. Having had my house broken into and robbed in the past, I know that I don’t want anyone potentially defiling and contaminating my house for a minute, let alone the few days it would take to force them to leave. Who knows what damage and invasion of privacy they would do, especially in the 24 hours after they know they are being forced to leave?

There are arguments both ways about whether squatting should be criminalised (as it already is in Scotland):

Wikipedia: Squatting in England – Criminalisation
Guardian: Squatting law is being misrepresented to aid ministers’ reforms, claim lawyers
Guardian: Media and politicians are misleading about law on squatters

I can understand arguments for making sensible use of long-term-empty property. But my position here is much simpler in scope: I want it to be a criminal offense for anyone to squat in my home. That may be sufficient to deter anyone from trying it, and so avoid all the problems that I would otherwise face until the squatters leave. It is roughly equivalent to saying (in some hypothetical country): “instead of it just being an offense not to hand goods back within a day of taking them, we are making it a criminal offense to take goods in the first place”. I suggest the latter deters theft, while the former wouldn’t.

“Entering” is far worse than “breaking”. Indeed, having someone squatting in my home for a day or so, with access to personal and private correspondence and other important things of little monetary value, would be far worse to me than having my most resell-able (and insured!) goods stolen. So the offense of “entering” (necessary for squatting), whether or not it can be proved to involve “breaking”, needs to be at least as serious as the crime of “breaking and entering”, at least for my home and others like it.

It is argued that it is rare for squatters to use a domestic property unless it has been empty for a significant time, implying that it is unlikely that squatters will use my house. But if it is so rare, then few squatters would ever be affected by a change to the law to make it a criminal offense, so there should be no objection to such a change from people representing squatters.

My relevant human rights: Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life; The First Protocol, Article 1 – Protection of property.

HTML: My response to the Government’s “Squatting Consultation”
PDF: My response to the Government’s “Squatting Consultation”

  4 Responses to “The law on squatting in my house in England”

  1. Speaking as someone who at one time could only get a roof over their head by squatting, I will say that the objection to the change in law regarding squatting most likely comes from the fear that such legislation will itself be used as a cudgel against squatters, or that it will act as a legislative stepping stone towards more oppressive legislation (Not an entirely groundless fear considering the historical behaviour of the State and its rich backers towards the less fortunate).

    It should also provoke concern that such legislation comes at a time when the Tory government and their LibDem poodles seem determined to make swingeing cuts to essential public services despite a floundering economy and accompanying social unrest, which will surely result in more people ending up homeless and thus having to recourse to squatting.

    It’s a typical divide-and-conquer tactic of class war deployed by the ruling classes, distracting people with crap legislation that serves to pit the homed against the homeless, rather than addressing the fundamental socioeconomic problems that in the first place result in people going homeless while perfectly good houses stand empty.

  2. This isn’t simply a topic being imposed by “ruling classes” or “the State and its rich backers”. There are genuine concerns held by people like myself. I tried to express those concerns by focusing tightly on what people with a single property, their own home, might want from legislation. I have no experience of needing to squat; only of being burgled, and not wanting intruders ever again.

    I would support moves to ensure that “social housing” isn’t treated as “houses for life” even when the residents don’t need them anymore. I was brought up in a council flat in Birmingham, but my parents bought their own house once they could afford it, (probably before they could afford it!), freeing up the flat for someone else.

    Part of the problem here is that opposition to the legislation doesn’t cater for the needs of people like myself who might be sympathetic to much of what they say. By appearing to be dismissive, in fact apparently not even recognising the sort of problem I am concerned with, they undermine their case. I believe those opposed to broad legislation should support narrower legislation which would bring “home-owners” (in contrast to “property owners”) on-side.

  3. I stumbled across this post while trying to find out how this current legislation is progressing. so this response might seem somewhat odd but i thought you might be interested to know about your rights as a ‘home-owner’ (or tennant for that matter) in the existing law.

    As it stands squatters ARE committing a criminal offence if they take over someone’s home and a displaced residential occupier (DRO) or protected intended ocupier (PIO), under these circumstances, would be permitted to enter the property and remove the offending party using reasonable force, the police would also be allowed to do so on their behalf.

    In light of this, I think the proposed revisions seem based purely on prejudice against the lifestyles of a fringe of society and certainly offer no added protection to peoples homes, only to empty buildings which quite frankly could afford to wait a month for the possession order to be granted before being empty again and avoid flooding our prisons with 20,000 homeless people.

    Anyway I hope you’ll be able to enjoy trips to the shops now with out the danger of squatters looming over you!

    • I don’t believe that entering and squatting in a property which is someone’s home is a criminal offence. I believe it only becomes an offence if they don’t leave when told to do so. That is not adequate. It doesn’t deter anyone from entering someone’s home, because if they leave when told they will not be punished for the original squatting.

      For me, the major personal impact is in the original entry and occupation of the house, when invasion of privacy is inevitable, and damage and theft of private material is likely before they leave. Being displaced for a period is a minor problem in comparison, yet that is what people objecting to criminalisation appear to think is what matters.

      I want it to be a criminal offence to enter and squat in someone’s home in the first place, (not just if they refuse to leave), with a punishment sufficient to deter people from trying it. It should be treated as a massive invasion of privacy, far worse than (say) hacking into someone’s computer. It is irrelevant whether they intend to do anything malicious with the material in the house; it is still an invasion of privacy.

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