Ilford Recorder Column 26 January 2012

For twenty years local families have been coming to my advice surgeries with housing difficulties. Recently there has been a significant increase. Redbridge has few Local Authority and Housing Association properties.  Thousands are forced to rent without security in unsuitable private sector properties. This is not just a local problem. Nationally for decades successive governments failed to provide enough good quality affordable housing for rent. Housing charity Shelter says we need a quarter of a million new homes each year just to meet demand.  But house building is down and  homelessness is up. People can’t get mortgages and private sector rents are soaring.  The coalition government cut the budget for new affordable homes from Labour’s £8.4bn in  2008-11 to just £4.5bn in 2011 – 15. The  Council for Mortgage Lenders predicts a 22 per cent rise  in repossessions. from 37,000 to 45,000.  But the recent spate of squatting of some 30 or more homes in  central Ilford is not a result of the longstanding housing shortage. It is organised by criminal gangs letting out empty properties they do not own using false tenancy agreements. Under existing law both civil and criminal law procedures can be used against squatters but as we have seen locally Councils and Police are usually reluctant to act and the civil law is cumbersome and expensive for residents to use. The petition organised by Valentines Councillor Aziz Choudhury has now led to a welcome increase in attention from Redbridge Council and the Police to this issue and highlighted it nationally.  Parliament is currently changing the law. In November the Government, supported by Labour Shadow Ministers added New Clause 26 to the Report Stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill  to make squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence. The Bill is now in the Lords. I hope it will be supported by all parties there.

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