Squatting is now a criminal offence
As of Saturday 1st September 2012, squatting in a residential property is a criminal offence in England and Wales. Those who break the law face 6 months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both. Police now have lawful authority under section 17 of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) to enter the property and make an arrest.
Squatting was treated as a civil matter, landlords including Local Authorities and Registered Social Landlords have to issue a civil claim to prove the squatters have trespassed. This process can be both timely and costly.
The Government estimates that there currently 20,000 squatters in the UK. The new law will speed up the removal of squatters from unoccupied residential properties including vacant Council properties and those owned by Housing Associations. Police will now be able to remove squatters on receiving a complaint and on proving that a person knowingly entered a building as a trespasser and is “living or intends to live” in it.
The new power only applies to residential properties. The Police are advised to work with Local Authorities who have a duty to help homeless individuals find accommodation before raiding a squat.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps said “for too long, hardworking people have faced long legal battles to get their homes back from squatters, and face repair bills reaching into thousands when they finally leave.”