Squatting law reforms taking longer to bring into force than was first anticipated - has the Government realised it was trying to go too far, too fast?

Shergroup - A Company with History and Heritage at its Heart A series of recent written Parliamentary questions have led to concerns by supporters of the new provisions that the Government is not going to bring the new laws into effect as speedily as was first believed.

To remind readers, the new provisions aim to move us towards further outright criminalisation of squatting in all residential properties and were contained in section 144 of the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012. The Act received Royal Assent in May and it was said at the time by the Government that they would be looking to bring these new provisions into effect as soon as possible, with a mooted date of September 2012 being put forward.

Since then, however, there has been little progress. No commencement order has yet been brought forward to give a date when the new measures will become law, and with Parliament now in its summer recess it is unlikely that one will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. Certainly implementation by 1st September or even 1st October now seems very unlikely.

So jittery have Parliamentary supporters of the new provisions become that a series of questions were tabled, asking not only when the measures would be implemented but also probing as to what the causes of the delay were, whether there were plans to extend the new powers and what assessment had been made of the costs of the new measures and would be made of the effectiveness of the new regime.

They may not have been too impressed by the answers they received. In terms of implementation, the responses given initially said 'later this year' but swiftly changed to stating that implementation of the new measures would happen when it was 'practicable' to do so. That answer is interesting not least because it could leave the impression that in the event of it being found that the proposals are wholly Shergroup - A Company with History and Heritage at its Heart'impractical', it will never be 'practicable' to implement the new measures and they could theoretically just gather dust on the shelf unimplemented (probably alongside many of the enforcement provisions of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007!!)

From the answers given one could also deduce that delays were being caused by ongoing dialogue with the police as well as other Government departments, enforcement agencies, local authorities and interested parties such as organisations that represent homelessness charities - perhaps because it was becoming clear that the provisions are not fit for purpose and much work needs to be done behind the scenes to ensure that the mechanisms are in place to give the new measures any chance of success.

It also became clear from the answers that very little in the way of background research or impact assessment was done prior to bringing these measures forward (something that many of us felt at the time) and that other than the standard post-implementation scrutiny that happens for all new legislation no special steps are in place to review the effects of this change to the law in its immediate or medium term aftermath.

None of this comes as any surprise. Here at Shergroup we have always contended that this was an ill thought out piece of legislation. The police have always said they are neither staffed, equipped nor trained to take Shergroup - A Company with History and Heritage at its Heartthis work on, and at a time when they are facing growing demands on their diminishing resources other priorities would inevitably suffer; whilst it was clear right from the publication of last year's consultation paper on the subject that little if any research had been done to assess the impact of this change in the law. It would appear we are slowly but surely being proved right.

It's not too late to backtrack, however. The Government just needs to accept that what it needs to do is not implement the new provisions - instead it needs to concentrate its energies on removing the roadblocks that slow down the current civil court based system used for evicting most squatters and ensure that the cases get into the hands of those who are trained and equipped to deal with such matters as quickly as possible.

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Squatting law reforms taking longer to bring into force than was first anticipated - has the Government realised it was trying to go too far, too fast?