“A squatter in Brighton once complained to me that his father was late in sending him his monthly allowance of tobacco from Dubai.
This really hit home that the squatting debate is not about helping the homeless. It’s certainly not about making use of empty buildings. The argument boils down to whether or not society is willing to put up with the demands of one extremely narrow self-serving group who currently don’t pay for their housing arrangements. Why won’t they pay their fair share? Simple. A loophole exists, that was put in place to protect vulnerable tenants from Rachmanesque landlords. In reality, it prevents normal homeowners without costly court orders from throwing out individuals who have broken in.
I say ‘exists’ but I meant ‘existed’. From 1st September, squatting in residential buildings has been a criminal offence. This means that people who go abroad and find others in the homes when they return, or people who are trying to sell an empty property, or others who are in the process of inheriting a property from a loved one, can sleep safely. Any invasion can now be dealt with by the police. It also means that the police will no longer be able to get away with ignoring related offences such as breaking and entering, theft of utilities and criminal damage.
What has fascinated me throughout this whole campaign is the difference between the genuine homeless, who might sleep rough and be addicted to alcohol or drugs, and the often privileged individuals who choose to squat. It is incredibly saddening that squatters have tried to use this as a cover during their violent and expensive fight against this change to the law.
Locally, we have seen council properties trashed by squatters which has added tens of thousands of pounds and months of delays to the refurbishment programme. This means that those who genuinely need help are currently not getting it. In Brighton & Hove, we have seen small businesses go under because they can’t afford to evict squatters.
On that particular point, I shall not be shying away from the intimidation and threats that I have received from squatters. Alongside a drive to get commercial buildings back into use, I am now campaigning for a change in law that stops squatters from ransacking commercial buildings.
Homeowners may now be safe but traders are still vulnerable to the squatting menace.”