The ecumenical charity Housing Justice, is opposes the UK Governments' rushed amendment to the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill which could criminalise people squatting in residential property. The measure will be debated on Tuesday 2 November.
"Housing Justice is firmly opposed to banning squatting as it will only exacerbate the housing crisis," said Alison Gelder, Director of Housing Justice. "Research carried out by Crisis has shown that as many as 40% of homeless people have squatted at some point. As homelessness figures are on the increase, to criminalise those with no homes makes no sense," she said.
"Anecdotal evidence from Housing Justice's members (churches and other faith groups who work with the homeless shows that many squatters are or have been street homeless. Our fear is that with this measure the numbers of people living on our streets will rise sharply."
In a statement HJ says: "These concerns were presented in Housing Justice's response to the consultation put forward by the Government on this issue. The consultation responses were published on 27 October and despite over 90% of these responses opposing the criminalisation of squatting the amendment to do just that was announced the same day.
"The existing law already allows for the fast track eviction of squatters if the displaced occupier needs the home to live in. If courts and police fail to act on existing legislation, this does not seem to constitute sufficient ground to further amend the law.
"The proposed amendment is particularly worrying as it will mean that all of the people currently living in squats will be committing a crime should it come into law. This will create a situation in which tens of thousands of people nationwide stand to lose their home. Homelessness services and local authorities are already pressured in the current climate. It is uncertain whether they will cope with the additional influx of need."
Housing Justice is a national voice for churches on housing and homelessness issues. The charity also provides practical support to help churches help homeless people. For more information go to: www.housingjustice.org.uk
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