It is understood that the police have not arrested anyone for displacing residents from their homes under the new laws, and only 3 people have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment since the new laws were introduced in September 2012. A total of 33 people have been arrested in all, but all arrests are understood to have involved squatters occupying empty properties rather than occupying homes.
Andrew Arden QC, a barrister specialising in housing law, stated that the new law "criminalises the most needy. The only difference from the old law is that it was not criminal before, until you were asked to leave. It is a superfluous law that criminalises action taken by the most needy whose housing needs are certainly going to worsen."
Mr Arden is one of a group of 30 lawyers who have written a letter to the Guardian calling for Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act to be scrapped. Squatters action for secure homes (Squash) carried out an in depth study into the use of the new law and has supported the call for the repeal of the law.
John McDonnell, a Labour MP, has supported the call for repeal of Section 144 saying "there was no need for a new law. It was put through on the basis of prejudice ... to pander to the media and the right wing of the Conservative party. We are now finding young homeless people being sent to prison at great cost to themselves and to the exchequer. There was a complete failure to assess the legislation before they rushed it through."
The justice minister, Damian Green, said that the law was "enabling the police and other agencies to take quick and decisive action to protect homeowners. We have no intention of getting rid of it. Squatters have been playing the justice system and causing homeowners untold misery in eviction and clean up costs. It will not be tolerated."
Government figures revealed that 34,080 families were homeless in 2012 which was a 12% increase on the previous figures. Metropolitan Police figures stated that 41 of the 92 people prosecuted or cautioned in London under the new laws were Romanian.
Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 states:
"A person commits an offence if -
a) the person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser,
b) the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser, and
c) the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.
The punishment for any offence under this section is a term of imprisonment not exceeding 51 weeks, or a fine.
The offence does not apply to those people who may be' holding over' after the end of a lease or licence.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.