Squatters kicked out of Street house as law changes
Young people occupying a house in Street were among the first in the UK to be hit by new anti-squatting laws.
At 9am on Saturday – the day the new laws came into effect – police raided the property in Leigh Road and arrested five people all in their late teens and early 20s.
Squatting is now punishable by up to six months jail and fines up to £5,000.
It had previously been a civil matter, rather than a criminal offence.
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The change in the law affects only residential, not commercial, premises.
A police spokeswoman said they had entered the property finding people ‘unlawfully occupying’ the home.
The squatters are believed to have been living in Leigh Road for several months.
All five have been bailed until September 21.
Joseph Black, a spokesman for Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) said: “This sounds like a classic case of how this law is criminalising some of the more vulnerable members of our society.
“This country is in the middle of the worst housing crisis it has ever seen, and in the middle of it, the Government has announced legislation that will criminalise people and make them homeless at the same time.
“These are young people who may have had no other way of getting a roof above their head and having somewhere to live.”
He said the Government claimed the law was protecting home owners, but pointed out that most squatters tended to move into properties that were empty and abandoned.
“They just don’t move into houses that other people live in,” he said.
According to the Empty Homes Agency, at the last count there were 1,444 empty homes in Mendip, 445 of which have been empty for more than six months.
Mr Black argues that squatters are bringing empty properties back into use.
Keith Robin who lives in a squat in Glastonbury said that with the Government selling social housing it had been difficult for people to find good affordable homes.
“Squatting is a movement that has been driven by need,” he said.
“There are hundreds of people around here squatting in houses who are now keeping their heads down and just hoping the police don’t realise that they are squatting.”
The case has bought into sharp focus the issue of young homeless people in Mendip.
Proposals for a YMCA foyer in Street to provide short-term emergency accommodation for 17 young people aged 16 to 25 have twice been turned down by planners following pressure from residents.
Karen Deverell chief executive officer of Mendip YMCA said there was a desperate need for housing.
Mendip YMCA is working with 194 vulnerable young people, trying to find them secure accommodation.
“This is a desirable area – house prices are high and landlords are able to charge significant amounts of rent,” she said.
“Young people and vulnerable people are going to continue to struggle to find ways to get a roof above their head.
“This need hasn’t gone away and it won’t go away until it is addressed.”
What do you think? Do you agree with the changes in the law on squatting?
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