HASL has found out from homeless members who squat in empty buildings that Lambeth council have been using business rates debts to get them evicted, leaving the buildings empty once again. There have been a number of long running squats in the area where homeless people took over disused abandoned commercial buildings, and when they were finally found by the owners they came to an agreement to stay till the building was needed. The owners tended to put the business rates they would have been paying in the squatters name (sometimes literally writing ‘squatters’ on the paper work!), which the residents would not have the means to pay and therefore would build up debts.
The council business rates team has not been chasing the squatters for the debts (knowing they can’t pay!) or even the owners (as the squatters are liable for the rates). Instead they have been sending bizarre letters that seem to imply the owners need to evict the squatters for the purpose of business rates compliance. Here is one of the letters:
Re: National Non Domestic Rates – address redacted – Property reference: redacted I write in regards to the above premises. The Council has been recently informed that there have been squatters occupying the premise since the 15th February 2013. If this is correct, please supply documentary evidence proving this, showing the action being taken to move them out. This can be in the form of a police report, court order or notice of eviction from an enforcement company. I trust you find the above in order. Yours sincerely,
The above letter is asking the owner to show action being taken to move them out, but yet the owner is under no obligation to do so. The phrasing of this letter has put pressure on the owners to evict squatters they were happy leaving in the building. In one case the owner told the squatters this was because they felt they could face financial charges if they didn’t evict the squatters due to these letters off the business rates department. This is disgusting behaviour off Lambeth using business rates as a weapon to get homeless people evicted.
They have tried to say they have been doing this to put the buildings back into ‘beneficial occupation’. But the stories of two of the buildings are far from this. Before evictions the two buildings HASL are aware of housed 20-30 homeless people in total, with community meals, martial arts training and film showings taking place. Now one sits empty and boarded up with holes in the floors to prevent it being re-squatted and the other has security sitting in it 24/7 to stop it being re-squatted. To whose benefit is this new ‘occupation’? Lambeth may now be getting its business rates but in total over 50 people could be homeless as a result.
This fits into Lambeth Labour’s wider attitude to homeless residents. In 2013 Chuka Umuna, Tessa Jowell and council leader Lib Peck published a letter calling for squatting to be fully criminalised. The law has not changed yet but through bullying owners with business rates the council have been trying to make squatting impossible in Lambeth. While Lambeth force homeless people out of empty buildings they are denying homeless families the stable social rents they need and are selling off truly affordable housing with the short life coops. We demand Lambeth stop this disgusting practice and let people put abandoned buildings to truly beneficial use by housing themselves in them.
The Freedom of Information request can be found here.