Letter: Desperation that drives the squatters

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article inaccurately claims that 'every place occupied by squatters means another family condemned to the misery of bed-and-breakfast accommodation'.

In fact, a substantial proportion - recent studies suggest as many as one-third - of squatters are families. Since families come within the 'Priority Need' categories of homeless people, they must either be unaware of their statutory rights to housing or themselves be escaping temporary accommodation such as bed-and-breakfast through squatting. The Government cannot cope with the current numbers of applications for housing.

Most squatters move into properties that are unlettable because of disrepair. The latest government figures reveal that there are about 56,000 vacant council and housing association homes in need of repair or improvement. Policy should make a priority of bringing back into use properties that are empty, rather than wasting time and money on tightening up laws which are already sufficient to protect people who may be dispossessed by squatters.

Shelter does not oppose the peaceful squatting of property that is unoccupied and not about to be occupied. What is 'absurd' about the situation is that commentators do not seem to recognise that people squat because they are homeless. If their housing needs were addressed, fewer people would squat. The further criminalisation of squatting will do nothing to house people in need.

Yours faithfully,

CAROL GRANT

Director of Communications

Shelter

London, EC1

8 June

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