Homeowners are to receive better protection as squatting in residential buildings becomes a criminal offence for the first time in England and Wales from tomorrow, 1 September, Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said.
Last summer the Government publicly consulted on options to tackle squatting, including making it a criminal offence for the first time; sending persistent offenders to prison and abolishing so-called ‘squatters rights’. Following the consultation the Government decided to criminalise squatting in all residential buildings to deal once and for all with the misery that squatting can cause.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said:
‘For too long squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Not any more. Hard working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first - this new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting.’
The offence will be punishable by a maximum prison term of up to six months, a £5000 (maximum) fine or both.
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. And by making this change, we can slam shut the door on squatters once and for all.’
Association of Chief Police Officers lead on Uniformed Operations, Chief Constable Phil Gormley, said:
‘Our experience is that the problem of squatting varies between police forces and it is more pressing in some areas than others.
‘However, police can now act immediately and remove squatters directly from properties in line with the new legislation and ensure people’s homes are protected.’
The new offence will protect homeowners or legitimate tenants who have been excluded from their homes.
It will also protect those who own residential buildings that they don’t live in, such as landlords, local authorities or second home owners. Previously, their only option was to seek a civil court order to regain possession of their properties, which could be time consuming, expensive and stressful.
Notes to editors:
- The responses to the squatting consultation paper are available to view. The consultation ran from July to October 2011.
- See the new guidance for criminal justice agencies on the new offence of squatting in a residential building as well as the Government’s plans for commencement.
- For further information please call the Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536.