Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced that the Government will “take steps” in 2012 to make squatting a criminal offence.
Squatting is not currently a criminal offence in England and Wales, so the police will not get involved. Film maker Guy Ritchie was recently a victim when squatters took up occupation of his £6m Grade I listed property in Fitzrovia, and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the Libyan leader, also had his Hampstead home recently occupied by squatters. Property owners have to issue court proceedings to get squatters out of their properties, which can sometimes be a lengthy and expensive process.
Mr Shapps said that he wanted to “lock the door on squatters and their so-called rights once and for all.” In the first instance, he has announced the publication of a revised guidance note for homeowners with problems with squatters. The guidance, which replaces a note published in November 2010, reassures homeowners that there are steps they can take if a squatter unlawfully occupies their home. For example, it highlights that:
1. It is an offence for a squatter to stay in a residential property if they have been asked to leave by the displaced residential occupier;
2. If a squatter causes damage when entering or whilst occupying the property, they can be reported to the police for possible criminal damage; and
3. The ‘legal warning’ squatters often post on the front door of the property, stating that it is a criminal offence to use or threaten violence to enter the property against the will of those inside, is a distortion of section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. It does not apply to displaced residential occupiers trying to get back into their homes and does not prevent police from entering the property if they want to arrest somebody inside on suspicion of criminal damage.
This will provide little comfort for homeowners who are rarely able to persuade the police to deal with any criminal damage. The position will not improve until there is a more radical review.
If you have been affected by squatting and require some legal advice, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.