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Red Devils and Manchester Angels: Hospitality to the homelessness

The former Manchester United players Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville this week announced that they will allow squatters to remain in the former stock exchange building in Manchester city centre, which the players are renovating into a luxury hotel. The squatters moved into the property recently and were no doubt expecting an interim possession order to land on the doorstep shortly. Giggs and Neville, aware of the growing homelessness crisis in the city, have generously decided to allow squatters to remain in the property throughout the winter months, until February 2016. A number of homeless people and a group of housing activists called the Manchester Angels are now settling in for the winter, and have assured their celebrity homeowners of their intention to keep the property in good repair during their stay.

In September 2012 the occupation by trespassers in a residential property with the intention to live there became a criminal offence, punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of up to £5000. This has resulted in a huge reduction in the number of those squatting in empty homes.

However, for non-residential properties such as this former stock exchange building in Manchester, no such criminal law applies. If landlords wish to evict unlawful occupiers they would need to resort to apply for an interim possession order from the local County Court, which, once served gives 24 hours’ notice for squatters to leave, after which bailiffs and the police may well become involved.

It has brought to the public eye once again the controversial topic of ‘squatters’ rights’, but this is just a symptom of the far deeper malady of the lack of available and affordable housing. Being interviewed last night on BBC Radio 5 I highlighted that for many people squatting is not so much a ‘lifestyle choice’ as many may think but rather is the last resort for how Britain’s homeless people can have some sort of ‘home.’ Again and again local authorities are rejecting homelessness applicants (in some cases unlawfully) leaving often vulnerable people to fend for themselves.

So hats off to Giggs and Neville for their hospitality to the homelessness in Manchester – but the reality is their kindness is just a drop in the ocean. Would that more commercial landlords were as accommodating as these footballers in allowing unused property be used as temporary shelter for those most in need. And would that the Government take decisive and swift action to play its part in providing a home to the homeless; anything less would be a home-goal.

Ed Veale, a solicitor in the Housing Team at Hodge Jones & Allen, appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Drive Time show yesterday evening in discussion with Katie Webb, Head of Policy at Shelter, John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, and Chris Town of the Residential Landlords Association.