Squatting set to become a criminal offence

 

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Squatting in a residential building in England and Wales becomes a criminal offence on Saturday, meaning squatters would face jail or a fine.

Ministers said it would offer better protection for homeowners and "slam shut the door on squatters once and for all".

The maximum penalty will be six months in jail, a £5,000 fine, or both.

But campaigners warned the new law could criminalise vulnerable people and lead to an increase in rough sleeping.

Currently squatting is treated as a civil matter and homeowners - including councils and housing associations - have to go to a civil court to prove the squatters have trespassed before they can be evicted.

'Squatters' rights'

From 1 September it will be a criminal matter, and a homeowner can simply complain to the police who, if satisfied that the claim is genuine, can take action and arrest the squatters.

The law also protects owners of vacant residential properties such as landlords, local authorities and second-home owners.

The Ministry of Justice has issued guidance for police and other law enforcement agencies on the new offence.

Police must prove that a person knowingly entered a building as a trespasser and "is living or intends to live" in it.

Someone who falls behind with their rent or remains in a property at the end of a lease or tenancy would not be committing an offence under the new law.

Start Quote

Ultimately the government needs to tackle why homeless people squat in the first place by helping not punishing them”

End Quote Leslie Morphy Crisis

But the law will apply to existing squatters to "stop trespassers rushing to occupy residential buildings before the offence comes into force".

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."

Homeowner Hugh Whittle told the BBC he had returned from a stay in hospital to find squatters had moved into his property in London.

"It was horrifying. Just going through the three or four months it took to get them out was a cost in stress.

"And cost in money as well, of course... and the property did actually become worse in its condition which meant that we had to pay builders more."

'Vulnerable'

The new law has been criticised by some.

Catherine Brogan, from the campaign group Squatters' Action for Secure Housing, told the BBC: "What we need is to tackle the housing crisis and not criminalise some of the most vulnerable people in our society."

And Leslie Morphy, chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis, said the new measures "will do nothing to address the underlying reasons why vulnerable people squat in the first place - their homelessness and a lack of affordable housing".

However, Justice minister Crispin Blunt said homelessness was at the lowest level for 28 years and the government was spending £400m on homelessness and £164m on bringing about 10,000 empty homes back into use.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on uniformed operations, welcomed the move saying police could "now act immediately and remove squatters directly from properties".

Squatting is already illegal in Scotland, where the owner of a property has the right to eject squatters without serving notice or applying to a court for an eviction order.

Squatters can face fines of up to £200.

The new law was backed by the Labour Party.

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said: "Homeowners around the country are concerned about squatters and rightly want assurances from this Tory-led government that their properties will be protected.

"The distress squatters can cause to families, as well as the financial damage they do, is completely unacceptable."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 671.

    Haven’t seen anyone mention that the joke of a government have recently cut legitimate housing benefit in half for single people... while rents keep going up! What next? ...deport all the homeless to some far off land to get them out of the way of rich boys making their profits and rinsing the UK dry?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 670.

    All people who support this change should go and spend a week on the street and then see how they feel to see abandoned buildings just sitting there. Most of the people supporting this awful change are people who have not had to live in these circumstances.

    It is very easy to hate squatters from your nice warm secure houses.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 669.

    AnnaVmV
    Agree that £100k is a large amount - central London ? Find it hard to believe that prices would be that much if you moved further from the expensive area/place of work. A long commute is an unfortunate aspect of many people's life - mine included. I couldn't afford to buy where I wanted to so I had to compromise. You can't always get what you want.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 668.

    632. KierLP1981
    What about the illegal occupation of someone else's land too?
    --
    As you say it already 'illegal occupation' and there are trespass and criminal damage laws already.

    If you're talking about "travellers" (who rarely 'travel') the problem is they usually own the field they park on, they just don't have planning permission to build structures on it.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 667.

    647. RYGnotB
    properties remaining empty for more than X years should be turned over to the council.

    I believe that John Prescott did exactly that some years ago. You serve a notice of improvement then the local council can carry out the work and recoup its costs

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 666.

    636.
    ProfPhoenix

    That's the SWP answer to everything. They need to change their tape, better still, turn it off and stop altogether. However, there's an element of truth that the capatalist system protects greedy behaviour. Yes, SWP, that's practically a central pillar of that system and why capatalism works; we are essentially greedy. The loons can't help so it matters not what their opinion is.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 665.

    These people have been allowed to get away with their actions for far too long (by claiming so-called 'squatters rights'). Perhaps now the Criminal Justice System will get back to defending the rights of the victim rather than the criminal.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 664.

    A vistory for common sense!!!

    Any chance we can now reform the remainder of the Legal System into a JUSTICE systemn?

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 663.

    So basically to put them off Squatting we are going to punish them by giving them somewhere else to stay for 6 months? Give them community service.

  • rate this
    +29

    Comment number 662.

    Agreed that squatting should be illegal. You don't own it, don't touch/use it without permission, that's how I was brought up anyway!

    How ever I pass buildings on the way to work everyday which have been for years unused and unkempt and a discrace. Councils should remodel them (or force the owners too) and sell them on easily recouping their finances.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 661.

    Squatting has regulated property speculation and inefficient local authority housing management for a number of years. The threat of squatters has reduced the number of empty properties.

    In the next two years expect interest rates to rise to allow banks to recoup their losses. The speculators will buy up the repossessions and we return to a more stable landlord led housing market.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 660.

    This is very good news, at last the law is on the side of the property owner. They should have made it illegal to squat years ago. Squatters need to get educated, get a job and pay for somewhere to live themselves rather than stealing property from others. No one must ever have the right to break into other peoples property and be on the side of the law.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 659.

    Read this comment and decided to evict my neighbours and get some of these well mannered, hard working, free house renovators to live there instead. Clearly, the rent/mortgage paying owners are the problem; perhaps that's why they don'tsay good morning because they pay.The woman on radio today apparently charges people rent on her home while squatting! A typical crusader, do as I say, not as I do.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 658.

    .theguyfrombristol

    I agree nothing wrong with working hard and benefitting from this, but don't invest in houses, the one thing everyone needs rich or poor.

    Invest in solar technology, business, commodities there are plenty of things to invest in that don't rely on directly making someone else poorer!!!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 657.

    therer are laws in place allready to "evict" for all sorts of reasons.the point is why has a decent civilised country have to resort to this?some posters get off on this type of goverment policy.maybe we could build work camps somwhere to put them all in-let them build them themselfs-save a few bob there what..your two bob-compassion is an obnoxious word to some..

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 656.

    to 620 - i work hard, save hard and for me to buy a house where I live I need a deposit of at least 100K - with my current rent it would take me 8 years, yes I can live in the shared flat, but I cannot convince my husband it is a great idea, especially now that I am pregnant - once we have a baby, it would take us minimum 12 years to save up

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 655.

    Oh let them eat cake!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 654.

    Reading some of these posts it's evident that the class-war is still very much alive and well in Great Britain. Come the revoultion, brothers and sisters!.....etc.etc.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 653.

    If someone climbed into my car and drove off in it would they be a car squatter or a car thief? This law is long overdue.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 652.

    624.TashaMarques
    ‘I'm now 25 and own two homes- why should I suffer? No one helped me, I did it by myself, without claiming a penny from anyone!’
    --
    Really? How did you pay for your second home or first for that matter?
    Pay outright? Mortgages? Or are they buy to lets, and you take money from tenants to pay for YOUR buy to let mortgages?

 

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