Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Criminalising squatters could cost £790m

The campaign group SQUASH, which opposes further criminalisation of squatting, has published research which claims that the cost of Clause 136 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), designed to criminalise squatting in 'residential' criminalising squatting, could reach £790 million in the first five years.

This would more than wipe out the £350m savings intended to be made by LAPSO when it comes in.

The Government's impact assessment estimates the costs as £25 million over five years. However, the SQUASH report points out that no attempt has been made to account for the costs of rehousing and rehabilitating those who currently squat, and estimates of the costs to the criminal justice system of prosecution of squatters in residential properties.

SQUASH's calculations for the most probable scenario puts the true annual cost of criminalisation as between £63.2m and £158.1m annually. Over five years, this amounts to a bill of between £316.16m for a low population of squatters, and £790.39m for a high population.

Amendments to LAPSO, including one that would exclude buildings that had been empty for twelve months or more, were debated last night in the House of Lords. Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat) said:
"It is no accident that squatting in an empty property has never before been criminalised in the UK. In its historic context, it has been seen as a humane response to the homeless seeking shelter. Any big change deserves more scrutiny than it has so far had in its entire passage through Parliament."
Lord Bach (Labour) referred to the findings of the SQUASH report and quoted the Law Society as saying:
"The proposals in this consultation are based on misunderstandings by the media of the scale of the problem and a misunderstanding of the current law".
Replying for the government, Baroness Northover (Liberal Democrat) opposed her political ally's amendment, saying:
"We believe that that is wrong in principle. We would not accept that after a year of non-use it would be defensible to deprive owners of their other assets such as cars or phones. Moreover, there are many legitimate reasons why a residential building might be left empty for a year or more-for example, when a property is inherited following a death and probate takes some time to be sorted out."
She then offered a meeting with the rebel Lords before the Third Reading of the Bill, saying the government had a series of transition measures planned. Lady Miller withdrew her amendment without forcing a vote, although she indicated that she would seek to bring the matter back before the Lords if she was not satisfied with assurances given at the meeting.

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