Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Commons pass squatting criminalisation plans

International Squatters SymbolOpposition attempts to exclude long term empty homes from government plans to criminalise squatting were defeated last night in the House of Commons.

The Commons last night debated a controversial new clause 26 added to the Legal Aid, Sentencing And Punishment of Offenders Bill during the Report Stage in the House of Commons. The clause seeks to make squatting in a residential building a criminal offence subject to a prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to £5,000.

Opponents to the move, which include homeless charities, and many housing lawyers, point out that squatting in the home of a "displaced residential occupier" or "protected intending occupier" is already a criminal offence, but one that is poorly enforced by the police. Introducing the clause for the government, Minister for Prisons and Probation Crispin Blunt acknowledged that the Metropolitan Police admitted that a lack of training and practical knowledge regarding the law on squatting may be a barrier to effective enforcement.

Nevertheless, the government was unmoved by opposition argument that the law was unnecessary and would criminalise vulnerable homeless people.

Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter supported the idea that there may be categories of squatters who need to be criminalised, but claimed this clause was ill thought out and unsupported by evidence. Labour forced a vote on an amendment that would have excluded buildings that had been empty for more than six months when squatted, and where there were no significant steps being taken to refurbish, let or sell the building at the time of squatting.

The amendment was defeated by 23 votes to 300, but will no doubt be subject to further debate when the Bill moves to the House of Lords.

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