Squatting in residential buildings

As noted in our May Briefing (available here) section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (“the Act”) introduced the new criminal offence of squatting in a residential building. Section 144 of the Act will come into force on 1 September 2012. Section 144 subsection (8) of the Act has also amended section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (“PACE”) to give uniformed police officers the power to enter and search residential premises for the purpose of arresting a person for the new offence of squatting in a residential building. The Ministry of Justice has stated that the police should not be deterred by any “squatters rights” notices which assert that it would be an offence for anyone to break into the building, as the police have lawful authority to enter the property under section 17 of PACE.

The Ministry of Justice’s Circular on the implementation of section 144 of the Act is available here

Council Tax exemption

As noted in our February briefing (available here), the government has concluded its consultation on proposed reforms to Council tax. The main change impacting upon lenders would be the proposal to abolish the Class L exemption from Council Tax for repossessed properties.

Following the conclusion of the consultation process, the government published its response, confirming that it does intend to proceed with the abolition of the Class “L” exemption from Council tax for repossessed properties. The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has advised that the majority of responses to its consultation were in favour of the reform. However, both CML and the Building Societies Association opposed the measure; and various objections were raised in the responses to the consultation:

  • lenders only take properties into possession as a last resort;
  • that it is not fair nor is it reasonable to make a mortgagee liable for payment of council tax but not other creditors;
  • that the costs of implementation would inevitably be passed on to the customer base;
  • that the lenders are required to dispose of repossessed properties quickly and the liability for council tax would not speed this process;
  • there are practical issues as to how the Council tax would be billed and paid

In its own response to the objections, the DCLG has stated that it recognises that this is a complex issue. However, the Government’s view is that “On balance, the Government’s response to the consultation is to continue to develop the proposals as set out in the consultation. Along with a commitment that the measure will not be commenced without detailed discussion with the mortgage lenders sector about these issues, leading to satisfactory and workable administrative arrangements”. The Government’s formal Summary of Responses to the consultation response is available here.

It does appear that the Government intends to press ahead with the abolition of the Class L exemption, but we await further details as to how the administrative difficulties would be addressed. Further details should be available in the coming months regarding the practical arrangements for billing and collection of Council Tax in respect of repossessed properties.

Land Registry fees

A new Land Registry fees order will come into force from 22 October 2012, reducing fees by an average of ten percent. The Land Registry is reducing both its fixed fees and its scale fees for applications. The majority of fees for information services will be reduced by £1.00, whilst scale fees will be reduced by £10.00. There will also be reduced fees for voluntary registration. The existing charges will continue to apply until 21 October 2012.

The fee change will have the impact of reducing costs of obtaining documentation on sale transactions, and further information is available via Land Registry here.

Contaminated Land Warning

Land situated at Willenhall, West Midlands has been designated as contaminated land due to its location over a former gas works.  The following addresses are included in those impacted:

Kemble Close numbers 1-27 (all) WV12 4DQ

Brookthorpe Drive number 1-40 (all) WV12 4TX

Oakridge Drive numbers 1-25 (odds) WV12 4EN

Oakridge Drive numbers 27-47 (odds) WV12 4DJ

Oakridge Drive numbers 22-38 (evens) WV12 4DL