Squatting for beginners

If you have nowhere to live and little money, squatting may be your best hope of a roof over your head, writes Jim Paton of the Advisory Service for Squatters

June 1, 2004
5 min read

*Please note this article was published in 2004 and the legal situation has now changed. For up-to-date advise see the Advisory Service for Squatters*

Why squat?

It’s still legal, necessary and free. Squatting is a matter of civil law, not a crime. You might be a single person without the capital for private renting. You might be a family declared “intentionally homeless’ or otherwise excluded from public housing. You might be a destitute asylum seeker. You might be displaced from your home by “regeneration’. Or perhaps you’ve moved to find work. Squatting is hard work and has its problems, but it’s better than the alternatives. Some people find that the closeness and teamwork involved, the laughs as well as the crises, open up a whole new world and change their lives.

Getting organised

Squatting an empty building without any information may be necessary in an emergency, but your prospects will be better if you do your homework and choose carefully. You can usually discover who the owner is from the Land Registry (call 020 7917 8888 for your nearest office; enquiries cost £4 in person, or £2 with a credit/debit card). It’s best to pick places owned by public bodies (including housing associations) or commercial organisations. Privately owned places are rarely worthwhile unless they’ve been empty a long time or you have some extra information. Most empty buildings can’t be returned to use without planning consent, so check the statutory register of planning consents at the local council.

Don’t go for council or housing association homes in good condition. There’s a quick and nasty way of getting you out without a court case if you squat a place for which a new tenant, or protected intending occupier (PIO), has signed up. However, most attempts to use the PIO procedure are bogus. Contact the Advisory Service for Squatters for advice. Generally, the worse condition a place is in, the better your prospects are.

It’s best not to squat on your own: get together with a few others. A squat is only a squat while there’s someone on the premises. If nobody’s in, there’s nothing to stop the owner breaking in and repossessing the place. However, if anybody – including the owner – tries to gain entry when someone opposed to their doing so is in, it’s a criminal offence. So, you need enough people to make sure someone is always at home – at least for the first few weeks.

The basics

Once you’ve found a suitable place, how do you get in? Many buildings are less secure than the owners think. Check the back if possible, and consider upper windows or the roof. Remember, squatters never do criminal damage; local kids do that, and squatters just come along the next day and take advantage of it. People dressed as building workers usually have less hassle than suspicious types sneaking round at night. Once you’re in, steel doors and window screens can be removed from the inside, but your first job will be to make sure your entry route is secured.

You’ll need to change the lock or fit some big bolts inside the door temporarily. Then you can start making a home. It’s best to sign up for a legitimate electricity supply. Otherwise, it gives the owner a chance to get you arrested for abstracting electricity so they can repossess the place while you’re in the cells. Make friendly contact with the neighbours, who can turn out to be your best supporters. Making the outside of the place attractive helps this along.

Squats get evicted sooner or later. Normally, this will be the result of the owner issuing proceedings in the county court on the grounds of trespass. You might get only a few days’ notice of the court case. Owners often make mistakes, and it can be worth defending cases to gain extra time or to highlight the waste of useful buildings. Sometimes a court case can be an opportunity to do a deal with the owner, so you can stay until the place is actually used. This is most likely with commercial organisations, for whom you could act as free caretakers and could be far preferable to the crack dealers who might occupy the premises otherwise. Defending court cases can be complicated, so it’s important to get immediate advice. Usually, bailiffs will come to evict you between one and four weeks after the case, which gives you time to find another place.

For more detailed advice, get the Squatters Handbook from the Advisory Service for Squatters, or contact the service: www.squatter.org.uk


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History


92