Following the recent Government reforms in legal aid, a clause in the Sentencing, Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Bill that prevents squatters from receiving legal aid has led to new proposals that squatting should be made a criminal offence.
Currently, it is not actually illegal to squat but Justice Minister Crispin Blunt believes that it should be.
He said: "Law-abiding property owners or occupiers who work hard for a living can spend thousands of pounds evicting squatters from their properties, repairing damage and clearing up the debris they have left behind.
"I am clear that the days of so-called 'squatters' rights' must end and squatters who break the law receive a proper punishment."
Squatters' rights prevent commercial property owners from using force to gain entry to their own property and the public consultation paper, Options for Dealing with Squatting, is being launched to counteract these rights.
Naomi Koningen let out her Streatham flat to Venetia Bailey and Ernest Henderson while she went on a business trip to New York. When she returned, she was not allowed to re-enter her flat.
When the squatting ex-tenants finally moved out, Ms Koningen claims they stripped her flat of all her belongings, leaving it an "empty shell". She now intends to pursue the case through the courts.
Cases such as Ms Koningen's are rarer than the usual squatting cases which involve homeless people moving into empty commercial premises, such as warehouses. Therefore, homeless charities say that to criminalise squatting is to criminalise the homeless.
Leslie Murphy, of the charity Crisis, said: "What about the misery facing homeless people who are so desperate for a roof over their heads that they are often forced to sleep in abandoned buildings without heat, light or water?
"Criminalising squatting does nothing to tackle the underlying issues faced by homeless people, and that is their homelessness."
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