From 1st September, squatting in residential buildings has become a criminal offence in England and Wales. The offence is punishable by a maximum of six months in prison, a fine of up to £5,000 fine, or both.
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 all ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting.”
Writing in the Guardian, Joseph Blake, a campaigner and press officer with SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) called the law “massively unjust”. ”Up to 50,000 squatters who are currently squatting in empty properties across the UK face becoming criminals,” Blake says.
RentFair welcomes the new law. The new offence was also welcomed by the National Landlords Association. Curiously, however, the NLA criticised the fact that the police have to determine “reasonable suspicion” that an offence has been committed before they can act to remove the squatters. It would, we suggest, be of great concern if the police could forcibly remove people without reasonable suspicion that they were doing anything illegal and this safeguard must remain.
The offence applies to all residential buildings, so is available to people who own residential buildings they do not themselves live in, such as landlords.