Squatting in a residential building in England and Wales became
a criminal offence for the first time on Saturday 1
Under section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of
Offenders Act, a person commits the offence if he or she is:
in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as
knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser; and
is living in the building or intends to live there for any
The offence will be punishable by a maximum prison term of up to
six months, a maximum fine of Ł5,000 or both. The offence is
enforceable against those already in occupation of residential
property and not just those who have entered occupation after 1
The new offence does not extend to residential gardens, garden
sheds or those who have fallen behind with their rent or remained
in occupation of residential property at the end of their lease or
tenancy. Nor does it extend to commercial properties, whose owners
will still have to rely on the civil system to recover
The change follows on from the Government's public
consultation last year on options for dealing with squatting and
better protecting homeowners. The Property Litigation Association
and the Residential Landlords Association supported the changes.
However, the new law has been criticised by some, including the
Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society, who opposed the
creation of a new criminal offence on the basis the current law
giving protection from trespass under section 7 of the Criminal Law
Act 1977 was effective, albeit that only squatting in residential
property which was currently, or about to be, occupied was
Some commentators have expressed doubt regarding the police's
willingness to assist and attend properties given their limited
resources. Queries have also been raised regarding how effective
the police will be should they do so. Guidance would be welcomed
with regards to how the police are to determine which party is
being truthful should the squatters claim to have entered the
building pursuant to a tenancy agreement or that they are only
visiting the property.
Importantly, the new offence fails to address the treatment of
mixed use property. Squatters may seek to exploit this significant
gap in the legislation. The British Property Federation has also
warned of the increased threat to commercial premises occupied by
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