Squatting will become a criminal offence tonight, carrying a maximum sentence of six months in jail, a fine of £5,000, or both. The new law applies to empty houses as well as occupied ones.
There are 720,000 empty houses in Britain, reported The Independent. This followed a government consultation into the matter after a string of high-profile cases reported in the press.
The paper also reported that ministers said the move would end squatting for good, protecting homeowners.
The new law, reported The Guardian, is introduced under Clause 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. It only affects residential, not commercial, properties. What are currently known as “squatters’ rights” are to be made redundant. Prosecutors will have to prove that squatters entered the building knowing that he or she was a trespasser, and – crucially – had the intention to stay. The paper also reported that the number of squatters in the country was estimated at 20,000, though it was hard to be accurate. The Mail explained that police were unable under previous laws to evict squatters after they’d moved in, so that the homeowner’s only option was a civil action – “which could be time consuming, expensive and stressful.”