Update: Squatting as a Criminal Offence
6th September, 2012
As we outlined in our article back in July 2012, as of 1 September 2012, squatting has become a criminal offence.
In particular, this law protects owners of vacant residential properties such as landlords, second home owners and local authorities who can now simply complain to police about squatters in their property. The police will then arrest the squatters so long as they can prove that the squatter knowingly entered a building as a trespasser and is living or intends to live in it.
The maximum penalty for this offence is a £5,000 fine, six months in prison, or both.
Despite the change in the law only occurring at the start of this month, we have already seen the first arrests for the new offence, in Sussex, where three suspected squatters (who had glued themselves together in a loft of a building in Brighton) were removed by police then arrested.
Police were called to the property by the owner’s agent, who was in the process of boarding up the building. The ground floor of the building was also being occupied by squatters but these premises were commercial and therefore not covered by the new legislation which only extends to residential properties.
Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (which introduced the crime) came into force, the Ministry of Justice has issued guidance on the new offence.
Amidst criticism that the new law criminalises some of the most vulnerable members of society, the guidance suggests that the police liaise with local authorities and relevant partner organisations to develop protocols to deal with squatters who claim to be truly homeless or even to work with them prior to taking enforcement action.
The guidance is keen to promote the idea that agencies, including police, should work together when dealing with this new offence, not only to protect those who may well be vulnerable but also because if squatters are provided with adequate advice and assistance it may well make them less like to re-offend in the future.
It is important to note that a tenant who fails to pay rent or remains in the property at the end of the lease is not committing an offence under this new law, and indeed, a landlord will not be able to evict them without a Court order. As mentioned above, the new law does not extend to commercial properties.
If you would like more advice as to how to deal with eviction of unwanted tenants, please do not hesitate to contact Emma McGlinchey at [email protected] or on 01244 405546.