Squatting law challenged by Powys woman
A woman is set to challenge a new law which criminalises squatting, claiming it breaches her human rights.
Irene Gardiner, 49, who raised her family at the 500-year-old house near Llanidloes, Powys, has been asked to leave the property.
Squatting in a residential building in Wales and England became an offence on 1 September, meaning squatters could face jail and/or a fine.
Ms Gardiner, a mother of four, plans to take her case to the High Court.
A London law firm is fighting the test case against the police and Crown Prosecution Service, and Ms Gardiner wants assurances she will not be arrested and evicted from the cottage she has lived in for 11 years.
Last year she tried to claim lawful possession of the property through the court, but her application failed. She intends to appeal against this decision.
End Quote Irene Gardiner squatter
The law is unnecessary, and it victimises poor people”
While Ms Gardiner has been ordered to leave the property, she has not yet been threatened with formal eviction.
The owner of the cottage has died and an executor, acting on behalf of the owner's estate and the various beneficiaries, wants her to vacate.
The new legislation means squatters face a maximum penalty of six months in jail or a £5,000 fine, or both.
Ms Gardiner, an artist, first began squatting when she was 14.
She said her cottage, which has no electricity or running water, had been occupied by squatters for about 30 years.
"I'd been in Spain and Portugal and got invited to a friend's 50th birthday in Llanidloes," she said.'Victimises'
"I'd been moving around a lot at the time and my children were little. The people living in the cottage said they were going to leave, so I moved in and I've been here ever since."
Two of Ms Gardiner's children attend school in Llanidloes, while two older siblings have left home.
She said she paid council tax on the property and had never claimed housing benefit, adding that she could not afford to live in a conventional home.
"The law is unnecessary, and it victimises poor people," she said.
"It is my choice to live the way I do, and I've kept the house alive, carrying out constant repairs."
Legal firm Leigh Day and Co said prosecution and the new law would breach Ms Gardiner's rights to personal and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The firm's Ugo Hayter said: "My client has been living in her home with her children for the last 11 years, the property has been squatted for approximately 30 years.
"My client has a right to a home and is very much part of her community. There is no reasonable basis for the police and/or the Director of Public Prosecutions to take action against my client or her children."
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said for too long squatters had been playing the justice system and had caused homeowners untold misery.
"This new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to protect homeowners against squatting," she added.