Redbridge campaigners welcome legislation criminalising squatting

Campaigners who were instrumental in putting the issue of squatting on the agenda in Redbridge have welcomed legislation criminalising the offence.

A new law, included in last week’s Queen’s Speech, means squatters in residential homes face six months in prison and a fine of up to �5,000 from September 1.

Susan Dixon, of Coventry Road, Ilford, who organised a petition with neighbours and Cllr Aziz Choudhury, of Valentines ward, calling on the government to criminalise squatting, welcomed the news.

Previously squatting was a civil offence, leaving homeowners facing hurdles to reclaim a property.

Ms Dixon said: “We thought it wasn’t acceptable, someone breaking into your house and ruining it and you’d have to go to court. “We hope that this will help to safeguard people’s homes.”

The residents’ campaign began when a home in Coventry Road was taken over by squatters in November.

After gaining 1,968 signatures in just over a month, it was submitted to Redbridge Council along with a dossier detailing squatting incidents in 22 Redbridge roads.

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Ms Dixon said: “Because of the campaign, Redbridge police put up advice on squatters on the Met website”.

A number of homelessness organisations, including Crisis, opposed the legislation because of its potential impact on vulnerable people.

But Ms Dixon, when addressing a council meeting in January, said Redbridge was being affected by an “organised network” and groups of up to 50 people.

Speaking on Monday, she said: “In Valentines ward, nine homes were taken over and I believe almost all were not cases of homelessness but gangs of people taking over.”

Andrew File, manager of Sandra Davidson estate agents in Green Lane, Ilford, said he “100 per cent” welcomed legislation to help homeowners.

The company has marketed two properties recently, in Ilford and Goodmayes, which were taken over by squatters which forced the owners to go through the civil courts.

Mr File said: “It took six to eight weeks.

“The sellers were very lucky that the buyers didn’t withdraw.”