More about Beecholme

Beecholme is also the first postwar "mixed development" housing scheme in Hackney, with a mixture of houses and flats with the taller block having five storeys and containing one-bedroom and bedsit accommodation. It is featured in Volume 15 of Hackney History and was the site of Beecholme House, the family home of Maj. John André (d. 1780), who was executed as a British spy in the American War of Independence.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Criminalising squatters - another injustice back?

On Tuesday 1st Nov parliament will debate an amendment to the "Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill", tabled by Sec. of State for Justice Ken Clark, criminalising squatting in residential buildings.
The debate could last 3 days.

Why clause 26 should be opposed:
(see appendix below for wording of clause 26)
• Many vulnerable homeless young people especially will be forced onto the streets.
• The govt's own consultation (2,217 responses) got a 90% negative response*** to the idea of criminalising squatting.*
• It will also criminalise student sit-ins and occupations.
• The police consider the current law broadly right (see 3 in letter below)- high court enforcement officers say the police do not have the resources to carry out evictions - this new law would be unworkable in practice.
• It is retrospective - in violation of Human Rights law (see 5 in letter below) - and will instantly criminalise up to 10,000 people (fig CRISIS).
• It is unnecessary - under section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 it is already a criminal offence to squat someone's home or intended home. (see 3 in letter below)
• There are 700,000 empty properties now and this law will encourage property owners to leave even more properties empty and long term.

Oppose the criminalisation of squatting
email your MP.

Letter to copy & paste further below.

Act now!

Don't let recent media horror stories fool you - squatting solves far more problems that it causes.

As the courts have previously stated:

“the public interest lies in putting empty properties back into use" ****

Charities like Shelter & Crisis and organisations like the NUS** are vehemently opposed to making squatting a criminal offence.

   There are 1.7 million people on the housing waiting list (Empty homes Agency fig).
   There are 700,000 empty properties, the Halifax say 296,000 left empty for over six months.
   Homeless charity Crisis estimate 10,000 people live in squats with the hidden homeless closer to 500,000.




There's also this protest at Millbank on 2nd Nov


Email your MP now

Find your MP here

Standard letter to copy and paste
to send to your MP:

For Diane Abbott MP (Hackney North & Stoke Newington)
send your email to:
<>, <>, <>

Dear          MP,
I urge you to vote against New Clause 26 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, criminalising squatting for the following reasons:

1. Vulnerable People
Criminalizing squatting in residential buildings criminalizes the most vulnerable homeless people in the midst of a housing crisis. This does nothing to help solve their homelessness problems, whilst exacerbating their condition.
Research by Crisis has found that squatting is a common response to homelessness.
As many as 40% of homeless people have squatted at some point, relying upon it as a means to find temporary shelter and relief from street sleeping. Most of the homeless people who had squatted (78%) had sought help from their local council. Although they had been recognised as homeless they were not deemed entitled to housing as they did not meet the strict set of criteria to be considered a priority. It is widely recognised that we are in the midst of a housing crisis, with average rents approaching £1,000 a month, and more than 42,000 households officially classed as homeless. Crisis estimate that the ‘hidden homeless’ number closer to half a million.

2. Empty Properties
Squatting acts as an informal disincentive to property owners from leaving properties empty long term. There are at present 700,000 empty properties in the UK (Empty Homes Agency). In the midst of housing crisis, it is fundamentally important that more is done to ensure that empty residential properties are brought back into use as homes. By criminalising squatting in residential properties the government are both removing the informal mechanism which squatting represents, and sending a clear signal to property owners that they will be protected in leaving their properties empty.

3. Unnecessary New Criminal Law
The amendment states that making squatting in residential building a criminal offence will “end the misery of home-owners whose properties have been preyed on by squatters”.
However, strong legislation already exists to protect residents and intending occupiers from having their home squatted.
No new criminal law is necessary, as was highlighted by 162 leading legal figures in a letter which was published in The Guardian : “We want it to be clear that it is already a criminal offence for a squatter to occupy someone’s home, or a home that a person intends to occupy, under the Criminal Law Act 1977.” The Metropolitan Police noted in their response to the MoJ consultation that “the law was broadly in the right place and that the existing array of offences allowed them to tackle the worst cases of squatting (e.g. where squatters cause the rightful homeowner to be displaced)”(p.10). In addition to this, there is the question of the lack of a solid evidence base noted in the consultation response; “the Magistrates’ Association is in general reluctant to see new laws being created without proper analysis of why existing powers may not be working satisfactorily” (p.19).

4. Vulnerable Tenants, Unworkability and Cost
These proposals will be in reality unworkable. This is because it demands that the police make decisions on the doorstep about complex points of criminal and property law.“Criminalisation of squatting and subsequent enforcement would have an impact on policing, in terms of community relations, local policing objectives and cost.
There would be a clear public expectation regarding enforcement. This is likely to be focused in areas which have a high concentration of buildings subject to unlawful entry and occupation, but also where there are squats which attract particular attention. At the same time contentious debate surrounding this subject may attract protest from groups who support squatting and voice concern about housing issues in London. This could attract further attention with changes to housing benefits and pressure on social housing. Significant work would need to be undertaken with the communities affected, local councils and related third sector organisations, to ensure that enforcement would be carried out in a proportionate and appropriate manner ” (p.35).
As a society do we really need to put undue pressure on an already heavily burdened police service to combat a perceived ‘problem’ that can already be addressed within the framework of the existing law?

5. Retrospective Criminalisation
The present wording of New Clause 26 criminalises those who are currently squatting in a residential building - up to 10,000 people (figure Crisis).
Article 11, subsection 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.”
Retroactivity of offences is extremely rare (usually applied only in cases of war crimes and sexual offences). It is widely seen as undermining the rule of law as it does not leave room for the individual to properly exercise choice and exhibit intent.

I therefore urge you to oppose the criminalisation of squatting.


NOTE: If you are unable to vote against the whole Clause, I urge you to vote for the amendments below, written by Crisis and tabled by John McDonell MP, which attempt to limit the impact of criminalisation upon the most vulnerable, and which disincentivise property owners from leaving properties empty.

The amendments written by Crisis & tabled by John McDonell MP
  • (i) That the law only covers residential property left empty for less than 6 months.
  • (ii) That the offence is not applicable in cases where the person is a care leaver or who has in the previous year been registered homeless/at risk.
  • (iii) That the offence will not be retrospectively applied.

The full wording of these amendments are:

Protection for residential or intended residential property occupiers and landlords

Amendment (i) 

“Insert new subclause (2A)  

“(2A) The offence is not committed where the building has been empty for 6 months or more and where there are no significant steps being taken to refurbish, let or sell the building at the time of the trespass.””
This amendment would mean that squatting remains a civil matter in all buildings that have been left empty long term and are not being brought back into use, while ensuring that residential buildings that have been recently lived in or are being brought back into use would be covered by the new criminal law.
This amendment would incentivise property owners to bring homes back into use and avoiding the risk that disproportionate sentences (up to a year in prison and £5000 fine) will be given to those who squat in derelict properties.
If this amendment is passed then it would nevertheless be a crime to squat in, for example, holiday homes, homes in the process of refurbishment, homes on the market or properties temporarily empty while a will is being executed.
This covers many of the concerns raised in the consultation. In addition to this there would be significantly less resource implications for the Police.

Protection for the most vulnerable
Amendment (ii) 
As an amendment to New Clause 26 
“Insert new subclause (2AA)  

“(2AA) The offence is not committed in cases where the person is a care leaver or who has in the previous year:  

(a)   been a resident of a homelessness hostel 
(b)   been a resident of a homelessness night shelter 
(c)   been a resident of a women’s refuge 
(d)   been found rough sleeping 
(e)   received mental health treatment in a residential setting” 
This amendment would exempt from committing a criminal offence several groups whose housing in the previous year suggests particular vulnerability or homelessness. It also exempts care leavers.
We know that 40% of single homeless people have squatted at some point and there is a real risk of criminalising a vulnerable group who are squatting as it is their only alternative to sleeping rough.
This change is crucial to protect the really vulnerable from the possibility of prison sentences.
Amendment (iii) 

 As an amendment to New Clause 26 
“ Replace subclause (7) with the words: 
“For the purposes of subsection (1)(a) no offence is committed if the person initially entered the building as a trespasser before the commencement of this section.”

We would ask you to consider carefully the two options that we have outlined.
To summarise:
•The proposed amendment is problematic as in reality it is far too significant a proposal not to have received full parliamentary scrutiny.
•It has the effect of making criminals out of some of the most vulnerable in society.
•In reality it will be unworkable, and will have significant implications for police resources.
•These issues can be mitigated by inserting a condition of 6 months in order to protect residential occupiers, encourage landlords not to leave property empty, and reduce the impact on the Police.
•The most vulnerable can be protected by their identification within the legislation.

The proposed clause 26;
‘(1) A person commits an offence if— 

(a) the person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser, 

(b) the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser, and 

(c) the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period. 

(2) The offence is not committed by a person holding over after the end of a lease or licence (even if the person leaves and re-enters the building). 

(3) For the purposes of this section— 

(a) “building” includes any structure or part of a structure (including a temporary or moveable structure), and 

(b) a building is “residential” if it is designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live. 

(4) For the purposes of this section the fact that a person derives title from a trespasser, or has the permission of a trespasser, does not prevent the person from being a trespasser. 

(5) A person convicted of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (or both). 

(6) In relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the reference in subsection (5) to 51 weeks is to be read as a reference to 6 months. 

(7) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a) it is irrelevant whether the person entered the building as a trespasser before or after the commencement of this section.’

----------------------------------END LETTER TO YOUR MP---------------------------------------

This govt. seems to be hell bent on bringing back the worst injustices of the last century.

What's next?  ....the workhouse?







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