A combine harvests a cereal crop

Squatting is a criminal offence

Squatting became a criminal offence on 1 September 2012.  Squatters found guilty of occupying a residential property without the owner’s permission face up to six months in prison and/or a £5,000 fine.

Prior to this the Criminal Law Act 1977 made it an offence for a person to enter residential premises as a trespasser and refuse to leave.  However, the police rarely prosecuted under this and tended to advise landowners to take civil action.

Landowners are optimistic that the police will be forced to expend more resources on squatting claims and prosecute subject to the landowner providing them with sufficient information that the property belongs to them and is being resided in illegally i.e. copies of Land Registry titles, unregistered title deeds, planning permissions to prove residential use if questioned such as for barn conversions and photos / neighbour evidence of the squatters.

The new offence excludes: former tenants, commercial properties, visitors, garden sheds / structures and trespassers before 1 September 2012.

If you have a problem with squatters the first thing to do is notify your local police force of this offence and the squatting you are encountering.  If the police do not want to get involved, it may then be necessary to contact your solicitor and pursue a civil claim.