In an important change to the law, squatting in residential property is now a criminal offence. It was made an offence by section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which came into force at the beginning of September.
The provision has been the subject of extensive comment in the media, with complaints that it turns squatters into criminals.
One consequence of the new law is that it should now be possible for property owners to call on the police to act to remove squatters promptly. Previously the police would usually refuse to take any action, even where squatters had caused criminal damage to the property and where they were causing great annoyance and disturbance to neighbours. Instead it was left to the property owner to bring proceedings for possession. Although there is an expedited procedure for squatters, these proceedings are still quite slow and laborious. A great deal of work has to be done in a short period in order to obtain a Possession Order, and the property owner ends up paying several thousand pounds in costs. It takes a minimum of 7 days normally to obtain a Possession Order from the Court, but in practice two weeks is more likely. Once the Possession Order is made, that is not the end of things. The squatters are not likely to move out and if they do not it is then necessary to instruct the Court bailiff to evict them. Bailiffs have long lists and it is likely to be several more weeks before they evict the squatters.
It remains to be seen to what extent the police will act against squatters. Where they do so, it will be much quicker than civil proceedings.
It will still be necessary to bring civil proceedings where squatters move into commercial property.
If you would like further information about this issue, please contact Alan Merkel by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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