By John Millington
BRIGHTON AND HOVE trades unionists lambasted local Tory MP Mike Weatherley over his campaign against squatters rights today.
MP for Hove Mr Weatherley has led a campaign backed by landlords to criminalise squatting in residential properties even if they are unoccupied by a paying tenant.
Currently squatters are allowed to enter an empty property if it is left unsecured.
It only becomes illegal and a civil offence if they refuse to leave a home that is already or due to be occupied.
However amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, due to be tabled in September could mean that anyone found squatting in any residential property will be fined £5,000 and given a six-month prison sentence if they take up residence in another person’s property.
Brighton and Hove District Trades Union council secretary Phil Clarke told the Dreadnaught that union representatives were “sickened” by Mr Weatherley’s stance, pointing out that the MP wholeheartedly supports the government’s cuts agenda.
“Brighton Trades Council is sickened by the way Hove MP Mike Weatherley boasts about his campaign against squatting,” said Mr Clarke.
“While supporting a government that is attacking housing benefit, presides over growing homelessness and does nothing about rents in our city that have long outpaced wages, Weatherley prioritises trying to stop people using empty and derelict buildings to live in.”
Last week during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Weatherley “anarchists” of using squatting for political purposes.
“Last weekend the Squatters Network of Brighton and Hove invited its anarchist friends from around Europe to campaign against what they call Weatherley’s law,” he said in the Commons.
“Will the Prime Minister condemn, with me, the Green Party’s support for squatters and welcome, as I do, the criminalisation of squatting?”
Prime Minister David Cameron replied: “I certainly support what my honourable friend says. This law was long overdue.
“It is very important that home owners have proper protection from people, in effect, stealing their property, which is what squatting is. It is a criminal act and it is now a criminal offence.”
However Mr Clarke insisted that the government had got housing policy completely wrong, with a focus on profit rather than peoples needs.
“Squatting is an inevitable result of housing being seen more as a source of profit than homes for people by many landlords.
“This bill does nothing to help those in needs of homes and will only make the situation worse.”
“Squatting can also, as part of a social movement, be an important way of organising and protecting the homeless, particularly against governments such as this coalition.”
Data from homeless support charity, Shelter, show that there has been a 21 per cent rise in households declared homeless in Brighton and Hove over the first six months of 2011. The Department for Communities and Local Government has a record of 4,128 empty buildings in the city. 251 of these are council-owned.
But many landlords will welcome the move with tenant eviction agencies standing to benefit from the new law.
Commercial director at Landlord Assist Stephen Parry, told the Tamworth Herald: “Making the act of squatting a criminal offence has long been overdue. Criminalising this activity will enable landlords to reclaim their properties faster and alleviate the need to engage in lengthy and expensive legal proceedings to evict squatters.”