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Squatters kicked out of Street house as law changes

By Central Somerset Gazette  |  Posted: September 06, 2012

Chief executive officer of Mendip YMCA, Karen Deverell

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Young people occupying a house in Street were among the first in the UK to be hit by new anti-squatting laws.

At 9am on Saturday – the day the new laws came into effect – police raided the property in Leigh Road and arrested five people all in their late teens and early 20s.

Squatting is now punishable by up to six months jail and fines up to £5,000.

It had previously been a civil matter, rather than a criminal offence.

The change in the law affects only residential, not commercial, premises.

A police spokeswoman said they had entered the property finding people ‘unlawfully occupying’ the home.

The squatters are believed to have been living in Leigh Road for several months.

All five have been bailed until September 21.

Joseph Black, a spokesman for Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) said: “This sounds like a classic case of how this law is criminalising some of the more vulnerable members of our society.

“This country is in the middle of the worst housing crisis it has ever seen, and in the middle of it, the Government has announced legislation that will criminalise people and make them homeless at the same time.

“These are young people who may have had no other way of getting a roof above their head and having somewhere to live.”

He said the Government claimed the law was protecting home owners, but pointed out that most squatters tended to move into properties that were empty and abandoned.

“They just don’t move into houses that other people live in,” he said.

According to the Empty Homes Agency, at the last count there were 1,444 empty homes in Mendip, 445 of which have been empty for more than six months.

Mr Black argues that squatters are bringing empty properties back into use.

Keith Robin who lives in a squat in Glastonbury said that with the Government selling social housing it had been difficult for people to find good affordable homes.

“Squatting is a movement that has been driven by need,” he said.

“There are hundreds of people around here squatting in houses who are now keeping their heads down and just hoping the police don’t realise that they are squatting.”

The case has bought into sharp focus the issue of young homeless people in Mendip.

Proposals for a YMCA foyer in Street to provide short-term emergency accommodation for 17 young people aged 16 to 25 have twice been turned down by planners following pressure from residents.

Karen Deverell chief executive officer of Mendip YMCA said there was a desperate need for housing.

Mendip YMCA is working with 194 vulnerable young people, trying to find them secure accommodation.

“This is a desirable area – house prices are high and landlords are able to charge significant amounts of rent,” she said.

“Young people and vulnerable people are going to continue to struggle to find ways to get a roof above their head.

“This need hasn’t gone away and it won’t go away until it is addressed.”

What do you think? Do you agree with the changes in the law on squatting?

Write to editor@midsomnews.co.uk or The Editor, Central Somerset Gazette, Southover, Wells, BA5 1UH.

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  • oldtrucker  |  September 07 2012, 8:27AM

    I suspect somewhere around 80% of "homeless" people are homeless by their own choice ,,, there is no reason why they shouldnt get a job and and live legal like the majority of people do . Sorry ,,, no sympathy whatsoever for that 80% . they sponge of society , they can afford drink and drugs !!!

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  • siarad2  |  September 06 2012, 7:52PM

    About time too! It's outrageous that I can go away for a weekend or to hospital & come back to find MY house taken over by squatters & ME being a criminal if I try to enter MY own home. Thank you gov. for ending this iniquity.

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  • carnybull  |  September 06 2012, 5:34PM

    Who benefits from s.144? Local authorities with thousands of empty properties. Banks hoarding repossessions to await an upturn in the market. 'Buy-to-letters' who plunged their savings into property fuelled by cheap credit after the stock market debacle in 2008-09. Those empties and that investment strategy help keep housing out of reach for many first time buyers as property prices remain artificially high. Who loses under the new law? Homeless people who take direct action to occupy unused properties. Raided without a warrant under s.17 PACE by the police. Arrested under s.144. Their temporary home no doubt boarded up whilst they are in the police station. Denied police bail because the police eviction ensures they have no fixed address. They will again be denied bail in the Magistrates' Court for the same reason. All without the judicial oversight which exists under the present civil avenues of redress for landlords. Then we will, instead of allowing them access to affordable rented property, jail them at vast public expense at a time when prisons are overflowing. S.144 represents a serious erosion of the rights of the citizen as it turns homelessness into a crime and police into bailiffs. This at a time when key public workers cannot afford to live in areas like central London because of spiralling costs. The government response to a housing crisis, shamefully unopposed by the Labour Party (only 13 votes against s.144), is to jail the homeless whilst shying away from any rent controls. S.144 is likely to offend the principle against retroactive criminal offences, since it applies to squats existing before 1st September 2012. So if the Street squatters were in occupation prior to that date, they may well use a defence using the EU principle of non-retroactivity.

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