Squatters to lose free court help to fight evictions

Squatters to lose free court help to fight evictions

16:08 PM, 30th June 2011, About 13 years ago 8

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Legal Aid LogoSquatters are losing the right to claim legal aid to fight landlords and other property owners in court.

A clause in the new Sentencing, Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Bill will shut the door on squatters who combat efforts to evict them with free legal advice as the public purse foots the bill. Landlords and property owners will still have to pay their own legal costs.

The proposal is part of a bundle of legal aid reforms aimed at saving more than £2 billion a year.

New research highlights that possession orders in London courts have increased 58% in recent years – from 112 in 2006 to 177 in 2010.
Lawyers Sweet & Maxwell, who commissioned the research, blame rising rental costs, more vacant properties and high unemployment among the young for the rising number of possessions.
Squatting hotspots include Clerkenwell and Shoreditch responsible for 43% of all possession orders issued in London in 2010. They are followed by Mayfair and the West End.
Outer London boroughs accounted for few orders – for instance only five were issued in Bromley.
Current laws let property owners call on the police to help remove squatters but only allows prosecution if a property is damaged.
The new bill has had a second reading in the House of Commons and is expected to hit the statute books later this year.

High profile squatting incidents in London recently included the occupation of film director Guy Richie’s house in Fitzroy Square and then the Black Horse pub in Rathbone Place.

Some housing charities are against the legal aid changes.

The Big Issue Foundation and Crisis have sent a letter to the government pointing out that many squatters are among the poorest and most deprived, with 40% of the homeless turning to squatting at some time.

Many squatters are also alcohol-dependent or suffer from mental illness, the charities wrote.

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11:27 AM, 4th July 2011, About 13 years ago

I see no justification for Legal Aid being used to support individuals who have taken possession of a property leaving the owner to foot the bill for simply taking back what is rightfully theirs.
It would be interesting to read the full transcript of the charities' letter. The implication here seems to be that they condone squatting based upon the vulnerability of the groups concerned. Once again property investors are expected to be social philanthropists filling the black hole in social housing left by successive governments. (I am avoiding making comments about the lifestyle choice of a squat in Mayfair!)
The only analogy I can think of is that a person without a car can take my car from my driveway because they need to get to work. That would, of course, be theft. Why is a property viewed differently?
If there was ever a nonsense in property law it is definitively covered in the term 'Squatters Rights'.

Sam Wong

7:57 AM, 10th July 2011, About 13 years ago

"The Big Issue Foundation and Crisis have sent a letter to the government pointing out that many squatters are among the poorest and most deprived, with 40% of the homeless turning to squatting at some time.
Many squatters are also alcohol-dependent or suffer from mental illness, the charities wrote."

Me bleeding heart.

How on earth does this justify invasion of private properties ?

Why not steal food when you are hungry or rob a bank when you are broke ?

17:13 PM, 3rd February 2012, About 12 years ago

The charities have a  good point. But surely they should be campaigning to government to support these vulnerable people not campaigning to allow them to continue to be 'housed' in squalid conditions thereby taking them off the radar of the social housing statistics?

0:47 AM, 4th February 2012, About 12 years ago

Isn't it funny that these charities don't rail against the Scottish govt where squatting has been an arrestable offence for years.
Are the English and Welsh properties to be made available to the English and Welsh squatters but they can't go to Scotland  and squat
as they would be arrested.
So it is alright for the poorest and most deprived to be arrested in Scotland but not south of the border.
Why should the English and Welsh be a soft touch for criminal squatters.
These squatters can always go back to whare they came from.
They choose their location.
There is NO obligation to house them just because they can't afford it.
That's life.
Go where you can afford

10:25 AM, 4th February 2012, About 12 years ago

A number of points Paul. The charities may well be in discussion in Scotland but like any PR driven business they know that the press will not pick up on any story unless it is fresh news. The English law is currently going through the Lords, it is newsworthy, if they're lucky they'll get a few column inches and put housing in front of people who never think about it. That's why their campaigns are focussed on England at the moment. They will get amplified exposure for their investment in the campaign.
Once again you seem quick to stereotype the homeless and squatters. I know from experience there are many reasons why people sink into long-term homelessness and in weather like this some will end up in squats. In this instance the charities are not trying to stop the bill, but seeking an amendment which excludes long-term empty residential properties. I can find nothing in their campaign which specifies what they mean by long-term and I still object on principle. 1) because the concept of private ownership should be preserved and even if I choose not to live in my property for a year it's still mine. 2) by allowing squatting in truly empty properties, e.g. semi-derelict properties then the charities run the risk of implying this is an acceptable state of affairs. If the most vulnerable are truly not able to help themselves then how is allowing them to live in squalor a reasonable solution in a decent society? Campaign for something better. Campaign for the government to sort the wheat from the chaff and start putting resources where they are really needed instead of the mess that is currently third sector funding - jobs for the cronies and over-paid NFP executives.
So all of that aside the point that seems to have slipped through the net, is that industrial and commercial properties are excluded from this criminalisation of squatters. Possibly because many large companies have security firms to protect their premises even when vacant so the problem does not seem too bad. But if they take residential properties away as an option then won't this have a knock on effect for smaller businesses who cannot afford round the clock security? I will be interested to see how long that takes to impact and whether the media even bother to pick up on it.

10:29 AM, 4th February 2012, About 12 years ago

Sorry Paul, I should clarify. The Charities original campaign was back in June last year. It's back in the news because it has been going through the Lords this week which is why I picked up on the campaign by Crisis to seek an amendment and dug out this article - which backs up the point that I haven't much thought about it in between  🙂

20:00 PM, 4th February 2012, About 12 years ago

Yes I can see your points; I think however the main reason that squatting has come to the fore is the stupid situation where a private homeowner goes on holiday to find someone squatting in their own property and they cannot have the police remove them immediately and arrest them for criminal damage and theft.
I do have some sympathy with sqatters occupying long term empty residential and industrial property.
I think if if have a property that is not occupied long term  it does start to deteriate.
I know thare have been some schemes whereby squatters have effectively had permission to occupy a long term empty property providing they conformed to certain non onerous conditions.
Even to the point of paying council tax and gas and electricity.
Granted they don't pay rent but they are effectively unpaid property guardians.
They would hardly with to allow the place to be trashed if they are living there.
I think it is an issue of responsible squatting.
Unfortunately irresponsible squatters have bought the ire of society down on the heads of ALL squatters; which for good squatters is just plain unfortunate.

23:27 PM, 4th February 2012, About 12 years ago

Who knows why issues hit the news. Often it is because of some extreme example which skews the story as a whole and sadly the facts are rarely fully reported.
What do they mean by 'Long term empty'? No-one seems to specify.
I was speaking to a friend this evening who's daughter is in a graduate role in the centre of London. She earns peanuts and works long hours but cannot afford to live close to her job. There is apparently a scheme whereby owners of long term vacant properties accept tenants who pay peppercorn rents in return for maintaining the property but this is a formal agreement. I would never advocate any sort of 'squatters rights' good or bad. I see it as theft, plain and simple.
If there are vulnerable people in our society who fall through the housing net then better provision should be made than some squalid or semi-derelict building and any provision should not be to the cost of private home owners and property investors. No doubt the charities have little expectation that the govt. will make any funding provision to fill the void they are creating which is why they are trying to make the best of a bad job with their campaigns.
But yes, I agree. If I choose to go and work overseas for a year and have no financial imperative to let my property whilst I am away, then as the owner of the property that should be my choice. I simply don't understand why anyone should have the right to take my property as their own in my absence. It may not be terribly nice of me to keep an empty house all to myself when people are homeless but philanthropy is not compulsory. It is a matter of choice.

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