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Hove MP urges public to act in clampdown on squatters
People are being urged to call the police to report squatters.
Squatters will from yesterday face six months in jail for living in someone else’s home.
The new law which came into force at midnight on September 1 makes squatting in residential properties a criminal offence.
Sussex residents are being urged to report any squatters in their neighbourhoods to the police.
Police said they would respond to any reports of squatters in the same way as any other crime – by making arrests.
They urged members of the public to dial 999 if they feared lives were in danger or if squatters were in the process of breaking in.
Mike Weatherley, MP for HoveAnyone who has squatters in their home or next door to them should ring the police and report criminal activity
In all other situations, people were encouraged to report squatters using the 101 non-emergency number.
A spokeswoman added: “Each report received by police of squatting in a residential building will be considered on its own merits. In some cases it may not be appropriate for officers to enter the building immediately due to the number of people inside or other information received.
"A planned operation may need to be put in place to ensure the safety of the officers attending and the people inside the building.
“We will always seek to engage with the local authority so that appropriate advice around alternative accommodation can be sought if persons are removed or arrested.”
Change in law
Hove MP Mike Weatherley, who campaigned for the change in the law, said he would personally call the police about any squats he came across.
He added that he planned to wait outside any suspected squats and time how long it takes the police to respond.
Mr Weatherley said: “Anyone who has squatters in their home or next door to them should ring the police and report criminal activity.
“The police should come round and make arrests.”
He said he believed many of the city’s squatters had already moved to commercial properties – which are not covered by the change in the law.
He added: “When squatters take over someone’s home it could cost £10,000 to get them out and there were no repercussions.
“They could just move on.
“We had a case in Hove where they just moved next door. We need this law so the police recognise people as squatters.
"The first time they could possibly just get a warning but it would be kept on their criminal record and if they keep doing it they could end up with a custodial sentence.
Six months in jail “I don’t want to see any squatters in jail. I want the law to deter those squatting in residential properties.
“I very much regret making people criminals, but I hope they act before this happens.”
The offence will carry a maximum sentence of up to six months in jail for persistent offenders, a £5,000 fine or both.
Homeless charities have said the new laws will criminalise vulnerable people, leaving them in prison or facing a fine they cannot pay.
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said: “It also misses the point.
“There was already legal provision that police and councils could, and should, have used to remove individuals in the rare instances of squatting in someone’s home.
“And the new law also applies to empty homes – of which there are 720,000 in England alone, including many that are dilapidated and abandoned – criminalising homeless people when they are just trying to find a place off the streets.
“It will do nothing to address the underlying reasons why vulnerable people squat in the first place – their homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.”
The new law will mean “squatters rights” where police or anyone else can be refused entry to a property, will be abolished and officers will now be allowed to force their way into squats.
The Squatters Network of Brighton has been advising its members on how to circumvent the new law – by occupying commercial properties or keeping documentation showing they entered properties lawfully.
No one from the group responded to The Argus’ request to comment.