A new law that has made squatting illegal could have a 'massive impact' on Sheffield’s homeless community, a Sheffield Hallam University academic has warned.
Sheffield squatters could be thrown in jail for a year and be forced to pay a £5,000 fine when the Government’s Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill comes into force on September 1.
'Easy win' for the government
Squatting had previously been a civil offence, with homeowners having to go through the courts to evict squatters. But in September it will become a criminal offence.
Sheffield Hallam University’s Dr Kesia Reeve said: “It’s going to have a massive impact in Sheffield. On our evidence rough sleeping will go through the roof with health consequences.”
“It’s an easy win for a new government. You can get public opinion on your side very easily through the media.”
'Criminalising the homeless'
She added: “Our evidence suggests 40% of single homeless people squat at some point. There are between 200,000 and 400,000 homeless people nationwide.
“This law is criminalising the homeless population.”
The new law has been seen as a way of preventing a recurrence of Occupy protests that were held around the country last year.
Gavin Smith sells the Big Issue and has been squatting for 20 years. He said: “It’s hard because there are a lot of idiots and you have got to get somewhere safe to stay.”
“If I have to do it I’ll just do it,” he added.
But the new law has been welcomed by some. Rick Flay, from Belvoir lettings on Campo Lane in Sheffield said the law would help landlords.
“Squatting can have a devastating effect on a landlord’s business and it can be very difficult, time-consuming and expensive for them to remove squatters from their properties,” he said.
“They can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage and it is almost impossible for landlords to successfully claim for damages, since the perpetrators more often than not have limited financial means.”
One man known as Johnny Remplap says there is a clear distinction between homeless and activist squatters.
Protest camps response
He said: “Activism and squatting have been interlinked for quite a long time. You get the squats that people sell drugs out of and the ones that are more political.
“It’s about the right to shelter in empty buildings. Often it’s a reaction against people being priced out of the market."
He added: “I think it’s an important symbolic thing to take something without negotiation.”
Mr Remplap said the new law might aggravate more 'open-style camps' in response.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said: “These reforms make clear our determination to protect the public in every area with effective services and tough punishments.
“Criminals will no longer be able to steal people’s homes by squatting in them or threaten people with knives, without facing the prospect of a prison sentence.”