On 26 October 2011 the Ministry of Justice published its response for the consultation paper, Options for Dealing with Squatting. Following consideration of a total of 2,217 responses to the consultation, the Government has confirmed that it intends to criminalise squatting in residential properties.
The new criminal offence
The new offence will be committed where a person:
- is in a residential building as a trespasser, having entered it as a trespasser;
- 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 period.
The offence is aimed at criminalising the act of squatting in itself rather than a failure to leave premises on request as it was considered this would provide a more powerful deterrent to would-be squatters.
Those who will not be caught by the offence
The offence will not catch legitimate tenants, lodgers or anyone else who occupies a residential building with the blessing of the property owner but subsequently has a disagreement with the landlord over rent payments. For example, a rent defaulter or a tenant who overstays his or her welcome is not a squatter for the purposes of the offence. Neither will the offence catch people who entered the property in good faith but did not in fact have permission of the property owner to live in the property. For example, where a bogus letting agent has encouraged an unsuspecting tenant to occupy a property.
What about commercial buildings and other non-residential buildings?
The offence will only apply to residential buildings. The justification being that the Government wants to eliminate the risk that protest activities in non-residential premises, such as University buildings, would be captured by the offence.
The Government clarified that it will not be seeking to criminalise squatting in non-residential buildings such as disused factories, warehouses or pubs as there does not appear to be the same level of concern about squatting that occurs in those premises.
The Government remains concerned about squatters who occupy commercial buildings that are in use and intends to continue to explore whether the enforcement of existing criminal offences (such as criminal damage and burglary) and civil procedures that enable owners to regain possession of their properties can be improved.
Copies of the Response to Consultation and Consultation Paper, Options for Dealing with Squatting can be found here.