As of September 2012 squatting in a residential property will become a criminal offence in England and Wales with a maximum penalty of six months’ prison and/or a £5,000 fine. The offence is part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
The new offence will make it harder for trespassers to claim trespassers’ rights, because their occupation will be a criminal act and Police will have a specific duty to enter the property to arrest anyone suspected of squatting, and can ignore ‘squatters’ rights’ notices.
Trespassing will be where someone knowingly enters a residential building as a trespasser, and is either living there or planning to live there without the owner’s consent. There will no longer be a requirement for the property owner to ask the trespassers to leave before being able to involve the police.
It is worthwhile remembering however that squatting as a criminal offence will not apply to residential tenants who continue to stay in a property, despite paying no rent, and therefore they will still be subject to the normal eviction proceedings. Nor will it apply to people who think they had permission to live in a residential property.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: “For too long, hardworking people have faced long legal battles to get their homes back from squatters, and repair bills reaching into the thousands when they finally leave.
“No longer will there be so-called ‘squatters’ rights’. Instead, from next week, we’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear: entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence.”
The offence will not apply retrospectively, so people already squatting in a residential property by September 1 will escape prosecution.