Housing Specification Blog

Squatters’ rights come to an end

September 3, 2012 Alexandra Blakeman Planning & Legislation

As of Saturday 1st Semptember, squatting in a residential building in England and Wales became a criminal offence. The maximum penalty for the offence is six months in jail or a £5,000 fine.

The law was brought in to offer better protection for homeowners and “slam shut the door on squatters once and for all.”

Squatting has always been a bit of a grey area as far as the law is concerned. Homeowners have previously found it difficult to prove that squatters have trespassed on the property. Before 1st September, all disputes had to be settled at a civil court before illegal dwellers could be evicted.

The law has clamped down on squatters’ rights. Click on image for original source.

Owners of vacant properties are most affected by squatters. The new law now means that landlords and homeowners can alert the police, who are newly empowered to arrest illegal dwellers.

Police must prove that those accused of squatting have trespassed into a building with the intention of living there.

Is it right to criminalise squatting?

Campaigners are concerned that the new law criminalises some of Britain’s most vulnerable citizens. Squatters are usually forced into their situation as a result of financial trouble, eviction or relationship breakdown.

Housing charities are arguing that the end to squatters’ rights could also lead to a sharp rise in homelessness. Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of housing charity Crisis, told the BBC that the lack of affordable housing is to blame. She argues that squatting isn’t a choice, it’s a way of survival.

Surely it’s still unjustified to live, without permission, in another person’s house? Even if the property remains vacant, it doesn’t give anyone else the right to trespass and set up home. Property that remains empty for a long time could be put to be better use, but this should be addressed by a separate policy. No one has the right to take or use what isn’t theirs.

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.”

Was it necessary to make squatting a criminal offence? Please do post your comments below.


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