The statutory instrument formally enacting section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has now been made. From 1 September 2012 it will be a criminal offence to squat in a residential building. Anyone living in a residential building at that date, even if they entered before 1 September 2012, will be committing a criminal offence if they originally went in without permission. Overnight, therefore, a new category of criminals will be created.
I have commented previously on the exclusion of commercial premises from the offence. Interestingly the Department of Justice has informed Property Week that they recognise the impact of squatters on commercial property and that they intend to see how the offence “beds in” before considering whether to extend it. In the meantime the Department of Justice will be exploring the existing eviction procedures and criminal offences such as burglary and criminal damage, to see how they can be better used to protect the owners of commercial property. (See Property Week, 3 August 2012 “New Front opens up in battle of squatters’ rights”, Professional News p58)