Haldane Society responded to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on "Options for dealing with Squatting".

Our response is here:

The Society is opposed to proposalstto create a new criminal offence of trespass (or squatting) for the following reasons;

The paper presents no evidence, other than stories in the press, that squatting of individual's homes is a significant problem. Such evidence as has been gathered- for example the recently published report by Crisis- "Squatting a homelessness issue" ( download pdf here ) - suggests ,squatting takes place in unoccupied properties and is the last resort of the desperate

The unauthorized occupation of residential premises is already a criminal offence under Section 7 of the 1977 Criminal Law Act., and it is a myth to say that the current law, when properly applied, is not adequate to deal with the problems. This is a question of education and administration not legislation. The creation of a new offence is unnecessary

It is proposed to extend the new offence to the occupation of all types of buildings, including the commercial and the public. Adequate remedies are available in the civil court to the owners of such properties and they have the knowledge and resources to use them. In the current economic climate, there is no justification for such an extension of the law to protect those who are not faced with the loss of their home and who already have adequate means of resolving their own problems.

There is no discussion of enforcement. The police are currently unwilling to involve themselves in disputes relating to property. It is unlikely that the proposed new offence will change this. Resource strapped local authorities (many of whom no longer have tenancy relations service) will not be willing to enforce the law either.

The new offence would be open to abuse by unscrupulous landlords.

The minister is dismissive of the idea that squatting is a reasonable recourse of the homeless suffering from social deprivation because

"There are avenues open to those who are genuinely destitute and who need shelter which do not involve occupying somebody else's property without authority. No matter how compelling or difficult the squatter's own circumstances, it is wrong that legitimate occupants should be deprived of the use of their property".

The Society disagrees. The avenues open to the genuinely destitute have become increasingly narrowed in recent years. The number of affordable tenancies (either public or private) has shrunk massively. The changes in Housing Benefit will exacerbate this. Many of the homeless do not receive the assistance from local authorities that they are entitled to. There is every indication that this will get worse, as the Crisis report suggests.

The minister refers to proposal "stop squatters getting legal aid to fight eviction." People who are accused of squatting only get Legal Aid if they can demonstrate that they have a reasonable chance of proving they have a right to remain - in which case they are not squatters.