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Local MP backs Tory bid to criminalize Squatters

John Freeman
(updated 27/3/11) After our recent coverage of how housing benefit changes will effectively impoverish some of Britain's most vulnerable when changes come into force by the end of 2011, you might be thinking that some will simply turn to squatting rather than pay rent they can't afford.

It seems some Tories have realized that too, because radical campaign site SchNews now reports that the criminalisation of squatting is on the cards.

An Early Day Motion tabled by Tory MP for Hove Mike Weatherley has attracted only 23 signatures so far, but enough for Weatherley to declare on his web site that 'his' anti-squatting campaign is "close to victory".

One of the signees is Morecambe MP David Morris, whose constituency includes a huge number of vacant properties.

Changes to the law, which would effectively criminalise trespass, have been on the horizon since the Tories came into power - rumour has it the whole thing emerged as part of ongoing attempts to clear travellers' sites.

The recent high-profile protest squats of multi-million pound properties in London have surely added a sense of urgency for the government.

Now, government press releases say changes will be made in the 'new year'. (Coincidentally, of course, just when the housing benefit changes really begin to bite).

Defending the right to squat will mean housing campaigners will have to face the ideologically driven campaign of misinformation coming from the
government and happily relayed by the media head on.

Housimg Minister Grant Shapps seems unmoved by concerns for human rights when it comes to squatters. "There's never been such a thing as squatters' rights," he says, "they are just a misreading of the laws that are actually designed to protect the home owner."

We suspect both local and national housing campaign groups may well beg to differ.

Mr Morris has yet to respond to a letter challenging him on changes to housing benefits.