On a general level, one area of law which objectively seems quite unfair is Landlord & tenant and residential possession proceedings in particular. the fact that a tenant or squatters can sit in a property for some months without paying rent and the Landlord or owner than has to go through a tortuous process to regain possession, sometimes even with a Local Authority forcing the tenant to sit in the property until the Bailiff attends seems inherently unfair.
In the case of squatters, again, the rules that the owner must wait for a possession order, incur significant costs in getting a court order and face the frustration that the property may all the while be being trashed seem ridiculous.
So, on the face of it, the idea that squatting will be criminalised seems quite fair and sensible, but some new figures indicate there are 2 sides to this argument, and some of those arguments also involve disability issues.
First, there are 2 practical good reasons that simply criminalising squatting would not be a great idea :-
1. Criminalising squatting suggests that many squatters are simply lazy opportunists looking for an easy life but who would not want a spell in prison or a criminal record. this does not accord with research undertaken, which indicates that time in prison for many squatters may be better than life on the streets.
2. The new legislation which is proposed does not include any police powers to immediately remove squatters which is what would be really wanted by property owners.
Turning to the underlying socio-economic and disability issues, research from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University also indicates some good reasons for a close look at the squatting issue :-
- nearly 80% of squatters say that have been turned down by a local authority, having sought help
- nearly 35% of squatters have previously been in care
- over 40% of squatters have health issues or or a physical disability
- over 40% claim to have mental health problems
With the cuts both to disability benefits and legal aid, it looks like these issues are only going to get worse. whilst we have some sympathy with property owners, would any of us like to see a whole lot more people living on the streets. What would that say about a society which is already seen by many as crumbling in terms of social cohesion ?