Advisory Service for Squatters

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Advisory Service for Squatters
PredecessorFamily Squatters Advisory Service
Founded1975 (1975)
Location
Area served
United Kingdom
ServicesLegal and practical advice to squatters
Websitewww.squatter.org.uk

The Advisory Service for Squatters (A.S.S.) is a non-profit group based in London and run by volunteers. It aims to provide practical advice and legal support for squatters. It was founded in 1975, having grown out of the Family Squatters Advisory Service. After being based for many years in St. Paul's Road in Islington, A.S.S. moved its offices to Whitechapel High Street, in the same building as Freedom Press.

History[edit]

In the late 1960s, the Family Squatters Advisory Service (FSAS) was founded in London, England, to help defend the rights of squatters.[1][2] In the 1973 case of McPhail vs. Persons Unknown, the Court of Appeal stated that a landowner could re-enter a squatted property and use reasonable force to evict those occupying the property, while remaining exempt from the Forcible Entry Act. Thus, as a result of this ruling, all power lay in the hands of the possessor of the property, rather than the occupants.[3] This case sparked a division amongst those fighting for squatters' rights at the FSAS, for new-wave advocates thought that the FSAS did not do enough to protect the unlicensed squatters' rights. The division gave rise to a different organization called the All London Squatters (ALS). The ALS was geared more toward direct action and was open to licensed and unlicensed squatters, thus it was perceived as more militant. As tensions heightened in London, FSAS split even further. The division between those for and opposed to unlicensed squatters grew deeper, and by 1975, splits within the group led to its dissolution and the Advisory Service for Squatters (A.S.S.) was formed by one faction.[1]

A spokesperson for the group told The Independent in 2003 "Today's squatters are highly organised and efficient. Many have full-time work, and drug problems are rare."[4] Speaking to The Independent in 2011, A.S.S. estimated that there were between 15,000 and 17,000 squatters across the UK.[5] Squatting in residential buildings was criminalised in England and Wales in 2012 by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, prompting A.S.S. and the campaign group Squatters' Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) to release advice on the changed legal situation.[6] A representative of A.S.S. told Vice News in 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom had resulted in a general increase of illegal evictions by bailiffs and members of the public in London. The Metropolitan Police responded that for most bailiff actions the police were not involved.[7]

Squatters Handbook[edit]

The A.S.S. publishes the Squatters Handbook which both serves as a guide for how and where to squat and explains the legal issues involved. 150,000 copies have been sold since 1976. The thirteenth edition was published in 2009, and the fourteenth in October, 2016. The Squatters' Handbook details guidelines on how to find property to squat in, what to do in confrontations with the police, how to maintain the property and set up temporary plumbing, and generally how to survive while squatting. It can be purchased for a small fee from the Advisory Service.[8]

Media controversies[edit]

In June 2008, the A.S.S. was subject to controversy in the mainstream media after Eric Pickles, Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar, criticised councils for listing the Squatters Handbook and contact details for A.S.S. on their websites. He said "Homeowners will be horrified that town halls are giving squatters the green light to break into law-abiding citizens’ homes [...] Promoting such lawlessness is breathtaking, but is sadly an indictment of social breakdown that has become rife under Labour and the prevalence of human rights laws."[9][10] Durham County Council was one of seven councils reported to be recommending the guide.[9]

In response, the A.S.S. issued a press release explaining that councils listed it "because we offer free advice to homeless people and those with housing problems [...] A.S.S does not promote lawlessness, as squatting is still legal. We help disadvantaged people to find housing, to help themselves when no-one else will. We often recommend that people who are eligible for Priority Need Housing apply to their local Council."[11]

In 2011, an A.S.S. volunteer won a case (Voyias v Information Commissioner and the London Borough of Camden EA/2011/0007) against Camden Council and the Information Commissioner's Office which compelled the council to release a list of empty properties.[12][13] The Daily Mail then wrote an article entitled "Professional agencies marketing empty homes to potential squatters?" which criticised the decision, leading A.S.S. to respond that the article was "misleading and inaccurate".[14] The following year, A.S.S. responded to two Daily Mail articles written by Max Hastings and Andrew Levy which both talked about "Moldovan squatters", describing them as lacking in evidence and "clearly designed to stir up tensions against people because of their nationality".[15]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Squatting: The Real Story, Wates, Nick and Wolmar, Christian, 1980, Bay Leaf Books
  2. ^ "Advisory Service for Squatters - About Us". Advisory Service for Squatters. 11 May 2005. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  3. ^ Law and the Underprivileged, Smith, Chris and Hoath, David C. 1975, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London
  4. ^ Fallon A. "Squatters are back, and upwardly mobile," The Independent on Sunday, October 12, 2003
  5. ^ Bell, Matthew (29 May 2011). "Home truths: 'Squatting is the perfect example of the Big Society'". The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 September 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  6. ^ "More Attacks On Our Rights To A Home – Changes to Squatting Laws". Haringey Housing Action Group. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  7. ^ Allen, Georgina (12 March 2020). "Squatters Grapple With Aggressive Evictions by 'Bored' Cops During Pandemic". Vice. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  8. ^ "Squatters Handbook". A.S.S. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  9. ^ a b Merrick, Robert (3 June 2008). "Squatters' handbook advertised by council". The Northern Echo. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  10. ^ Advisory Service for Squatters – Squatting is Still Legal. Advisory Service for Squatters
  11. ^ "Analysis - Camden Council must disclose list of empty properties to squatting campaigner". UK Human Rights Blog. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  12. ^ "Voyias v Information Commissioner and the London Borough of Camden EA/2011/0007" (PDF). Bailii. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  13. ^ "Open Letter To Daily Mail". Advisory Service for Squatters. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  14. ^ "Another Daily Mail attack – response". Advisory Service for Squatters. Retrieved 3 December 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′58″N 0°04′15″W / 51.5161°N 0.0707°W / 51.5161; -0.0707