Hasty Hackney And The Criminal Justice Bill
Squall 7, Summer 1994, pg. 18
Anyone wanting to see at first hand how squatters will be treated when the Criminal Justice Bill becomes law need look no further than 'left-wing' Hackney Council. Since the creation of the Tenancy Audit Team (TAT) squatters have borne the brunt of the council’s ineffectiveness in creating an efficient and honest housing allocation system.
The heavy-handed actions of TAT have been causing a lot of grief on the Borough’s estates recently. Squatters (and that is a word with a very wide interpretation here) are not forewarned, have their doors broken down and are ejected while their homes are grilled up. Widespread accusations of intimidation against families, tenants and, indeed, anyone thought to be squatting are rife. Court cases are being prepared against the council and many council staff themselves are raising questions about the activities of TAT.
Typically, the council has just announced the hiring of 2 ‘Tenancy Relations Officers’ to help the 200 private tenants who report harassment and illegal eviction every month across the borough. The Council has apparently ‘declared war on bad housing and dodgy landlords’!!
Unlike his predecessor, Hackney’s present Chair of Housing Simon Matthews has made very clear that he supports Michael Howard’s new proposals without reservation. There was little surprise then when a triumph of double-speak (press release) appeared on SQUALL’S doormat on the 29th April trumpeting the Council’s reduction of squats in the borough: “Over 60% in the past year. From 1,184 in April last year to 460 now.” Apparently, it is “the largest ever fall recorded by a London borough” and probably the largest recent cause of homelessness in London too.
Entitled “Squatting Squeezed in Hackney”, Director of Housing Bernard Crofton gushed proudly: “1,350 properties have been repossessed as a result of the council working closely with the electricity, gas and water boards (sic) to disconnect supplies.” (Apparently he and his cronies are unaware of what was going on in the 1980’s ie. that the utilities are now in fact private companies). And, in language fit for any would-be Michael Howard or bailiff for that matter, he concluded: “We will not tolerate squatters. Squatting adds to the rent of every rent payer in the borough.”
As seasoned Hackney watchers will know, the Council’s housing department has an unbeatable record of ‘adding to the rent of every rent payer in the borough’ itself. A fine example, in June 1991, was the ‘Keys-for-Cash’ scandal, which had netted an estimated £20 million for corrupt housing officials involved. More than a thousand properties were illegally let and eventually 4 officials were sacked and 12 suspended. The Fraud Squad were called in to investigate the whole department, while Bernard Crofton defended it saying: “From time to time staff succumbed to temptation” (Independent 6-6-91).
Much of the final investigation was eventually left to the council itself, who then set up TAT to investigate the corruption involving fake tenancies. Instead, squatters have been scapegoated and viciously evicted, and tenants are next in the firing line.
Amazingly, Crofton hung on to his job and now, in 1994, is in a position to say: “By stamping out squatting the Council hopes to reduce the use of temporary accommodation for the priority homeless - accommodation which is costing £20 million (!) a year”. Any coincidence between this and the cash sum previously mentioned is purely coincidental. Meanwhile the Evening Standard has reported that TAT has compiled a secret report showing that no less than 75% of Hackney’s tenants are in arrears or sub-tenanting from somebody else.
A quick SQUALL tour of the borough revealed that many, if not most, of the ‘repossessed’ flats are, you guessed, still empty.
How many more boarded-up empties is the new Bill going to create? It would be no surprise if the figure hit a million very soon, especially if people like Crofton and Matthews are anything to go by.
What we at SQUALL would like to know is if this is how people are being treated by a Labour council how on earth will they be dealt with by private heavies and bailiffs after the Criminal Justice Bill is implemented?