Squatting criminalised as legal aid bill becomes law
Plans to criminalise squatting and restrict access to legal aid for all but the most serious housing cases have become law.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill received Royal Assent yesterday, meaning it is now an Act of Parliament.
Campaigners challenged the bill in a number of areas during its passage through parliament, seeking changes to the squatting provisions, and greater protection for children in the legal aid clauses. However changes put through in the House of Lords were reversed by MPs in the House of Commons.
The act makes squatting in a residential building a criminal offence, meaning squatters could face a year in jail or a £5,000 fine. It also restricts access to legal aid to instances where households could be, or have been, made homeless.
The government is hoping to cut the annual £2.1 billion legal aid bill by £350 million a year from 2014/15.
The Law Centres Federation, which represents centres that offer free legal advice to disadvantaged groups, described the passing of the bill as ‘a terrible day for justice in the UK, particularly for social justice’.