Law planned to make squatting criminal offence: Charities for homeless fear move will put thousands of young people on the streets

LEGISLATION to outlaw squatters is being proposed by Home Office ministers.

While criminalising the country's estimated 60,000 squatters has long been on the Government's agenda, Home Office sources suggest it has become one of the first items Michael Howard - the new Home Secretary - is considering for a planned Criminal Justice Bill. Although details have yet to be decided, Mr Howard has been presented with one option which could include prison as a penalty.

Present law allows owners to call the police only if they have been prevented from entering their normal residence, or if there has been violence or damage used to gain entry. Otherwise squatting in vacant properties remains a civil offence.

But bringing a county court action can take time and can cost hundreds of pounds, which property owners are unlikely to recover from squatters.

John Major has recently repeated the Tory Party manifesto pledge to tackle squatting. However, some ministers are said to be worried about the effects such legislation could have on the country's already embarrassing homelessness problem and the costs to the criminal justice system of enforcing the legislation.

A recent survey suggested that one- third of squatters were families, which may qualify for council housing. However, the rest were single with no hope of public sector housing and could end up on the streets.

Details of civil actions show that 90 per cent of squatting is in unoccupied public sector housing and 9 per cent in commercial property - leaving only a small number of individuals affected. Some local authorities, concerned that squatters are effectively jumping housing waiting lists, have introduced emergency lines for people to report anyone entering unoccupied council properties.

John McCafferty, leader of Hackney Borough Council, which has such a scheme, said: 'I can't see much use in criminalising thousands of young people - and it is mostly young people. It would be a much better use of money to build and provide more homes.' He believed current legislation was adequate if the court proceedings for possession were speeded up and more funds were made available for speedy renovations for unoccupied council properties.

His views were shared by housing charities and pressure groups for the homeless, who feared criminalising squatters would swell the numbers sleeping on the streets.

Gerald Oppenheim, secretary of the Single Homeless in London working party, said: 'It is a difficult problem. But for many people squatting has been a means of getting a roof over their heads - however inadequate. Locking them up seems a ludicrous way of solving the housing crisis.'

Sheila McKechnie, director of Shelter, the national campaign for the homeless, said proposals to criminalise squatting were totally disproportionate to the problem. Instead, the Government should focus on bringing empty properties back into use.

Tim Dwelly, editor of Roof, the housing magazine, remained sceptical about whether the Home Office plans would reach fruition. 'It would involve a huge increase in cost to the Government - in policing, courts, putting people in prison. It is simply not cost-effective.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas