The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has now published its response to the recent consultation on proposals to criminalise squatting. The consultation paper, entitled ‘Options for dealing with squatting’, received over 2,000 responses. As a first step, the Government is proposing to make squatting in residential properties a criminal offence.
The offence would be committed where a person:
- was in the building as a trespasser having entered as such;
- knew or ought to have known that he or she was a trespasser; and
- was living or intending to live in the building.
Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 already makes it a criminal offence for a trespasser to fail to leave residential premises when required to do so by or on behalf of a ‘displaced residential occupier’ or a ‘protected intending occupier’. While this allows those who are effectively made homeless by squatters to take action, it does not protect landlords or owners of second homes.
At present, the Government is not planning to criminalise squatting in commercial premises. Part of the reason for this is to prevent the occupation of buildings during protest activities from being caught by the new legislation. Crispin Blunt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, said, “Stopping short of criminalising squatting in non-residential buildings represents a balanced compromise. Squatters who occupy genuinely abandoned or dilapidated non-residential buildings will not be committing the new offence, although their actions will rightly continue to be treated as a civil wrong and they can still be prosecuted for offences such as criminal damage or burglary. Neither will students who occupy academic buildings or workers who stage sit-ins to protest against an employer be caught by the offence.”
The legislation will not apply in situations where the property has previously been occupied legitimately, such as where tenants fall behind with their rent payments.