Squatters face fine and jail term as new law is introduced
New legislation was brought into force on the 1st September 2012 which has diminished the rights of squatters, meaning that squatting is now a criminal offence which carries a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment, a £5000 fine or both under section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
Prior to the introduction of the new law, squatters could not be evicted as soon they moved into a property, instead the main option for home owners was to prove in the civil courts that the squatters had trespassed before they could be evicted. However, this was an extremely lengthy, problematic and expensive procedure and after governmental consultation on the topic squatters can now be arrested by the police immediately, therefore providing home owners and landlords greater protection. Police are now able to raid buildings on suspicion that it is being occupied by squatters and the new offence also makes it difficult for trespassers to assert their ‘squatters rights’.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt stated “the change in law was required as for too many years, squatters have had the justice system on the run and caused hard-working homeowners with untold amounts of misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs”.
Campaigners have protested that the law could criminalise vulnerable innocent people and lead to a huge increase in rough sleeping as many individuals will be left homeless. Many squatters have also planned to challenge the change in the law.