May 19 2013 Latest news:
by Alistair Kleebauer, Senior reporter
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Legislation which came into effect on Saturday to criminalise squatting will safeguard homeowners, according to an Ilford woman who campaigned for a change in the law.
Susan Dixon, 47, of Coventry Road, organised a petition in December with neighbours and Cllr Aziz Choudhury, of Valentines ward, calling for squatting to become a criminal offence.
The campaign began after a number of homes were taken over by large groups of squatters in the ward, with 20 or more people evicted from homes in Coventry Road and Perth Road, Gants Hill, in December and March respectively.
Since Saturday, squatters can face six months in prison, a £5,000 fine, or both, if they move into a residential property whereas previously homeowners often had to go to the civil courts to prove the squatters had trespassed.
Ms Dixon said: “I believe this legislation will definitely help to safeguard homeowners.
“It’s not homes that have been abandoned [in Redbridge], we’re talking about homeowners that own a home and are trying to sell it.”
The law will not apply to legitimate tenants who have fallen behind with their rent payments as such a person is not considered a trespasser.
It also will not cover people who enter a property in good faith, for example where a bogus letting agency encouraged an unknowing tenant to occupy someone else’s home.
The charity Crisis said the law criminalises homeless people who are trying to find a place off the streets.
But Ms Dixon said she had seen organised groups take over two properties in her road.
She said: “From day one, it was large groups of people, between 10 and 40.
“It wasn’t one person, it was groups.
“I listed 25 vehicle registrations that were stopping outside the house every few hours, dropping groups off, collecting things from the houses.”
Redbridge Council leader Cllr Keith Prince said: “Homeowners would have to go through months and months of grief in the courts in which time their house has become wrecked.
“The police can now go in and the fact it’s a criminal offence is a deterrent.”