New legislation that protects homeowners from squatters will be enforced starting 1 September 2012, under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012.
Prior to this, squatting had only been a civil offence. Under section 144 of the Act, it will become a criminal offence if:
(a) the person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser,
(b) the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser, and
(c) the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.
The passage of the law means that squatters in residential buildings will soon face punishment of up to 51 weeks and/or a maximum £5,000 penalty. Squatters of residential buildings who took up their illegal occupancy before 1 September will not be immune from the law.
The new legislation aims at protecting homeowners from the prospect of potentially costly protracted legal battles revolving around their attempts to remove intruders who refuse to vacate their properties. Such interlopers have been known to damage properties as well. As a result, sale of residential properties – which might have been delayed under the old provisions – would likely be facilitated and hastened.
This is, naturally, a victory for residential homeowners. Meanwhile, on the opposite side, the organisation Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes commissioned and published a report that claims that the new law could cost taxpayers between £316.2m and £790.4m over a period of five years. 1
Commercial property owners are not protected from squatters under the new law.
1 Malik, Shiv, “Squatting law reforms could cost taxpayers £790m over five years” The Guardian, 16 March 2012