Squatting doesn't provide you with any security of tenure. You can be easily evicted from a squat. If squatting is your only option, the council may be able to help you to find accommodation.

What is squatting?

Squatting isn't a legal term but it means entering a property and living there without the permission of the owner or the person with a legal right to live there.

Former tenants and licensees who stay on in a property after their tenancy or licence has ended may be trespassers, but are not squatters because they originally had the right or permission to enter the property.

More information on squatting is available from the Advisory Service for Squatters.

The criminal law on squatting

Squatting in a residential property is a criminal offence. Squatters can be arrested and if convicted, can be sent to prison for up to 6 months or fined up to £5,000, or both.

You cannot be convicted of squatting if you:

  • are squatting in commercial premises
  • are a tenant or licensee remaining in a property after the tenancy or licence has ended
  • entered the property genuinely believing you were a tenant – for example, if a bogus letting agent rented you a property they had no right to
  • are a Gypsy or Traveller living on an unauthorised site

It is illegal to get into a property by breaking in or damaging windows and doors. You could be arrested even if the damage is small.

Squatters have a right to be connected to utilities such as gas, electricity and water. But using them without contacting the supplier first is illegal.

How squatters can be evicted

Squatters can be easily evicted. If you're squatting, the owner or the person with a legal right to live there could enter and change the locks while you're out as long as there is no-one in the property who opposes this.

If you or someone else is in the property, the owner must get a court order if you refuse to leave. 

In most cases the court automatically gives the owner the right to get back into the property.

If you still don't leave after a court order, the owner must ask the court bailiffs to evict you.

The owner or person with a right to live in the property doesn't have to get a court order for eviction to evict a:

  • displaced residential occupier – somebody who was occupying the property as their home immediately before it was squatted
  • protected intending occupier – an owner or tenant who intends to live there as their home and has the paperwork to prove this

In either of these cases, if you are squatting and refuse to leave when you are asked to, you can be arrested.

It is illegal to use violence to evict squatters

It is illegal for the owner to use or threaten violence against you or the property if you or another person is inside. This is the case even if there is a court order asking you to leave.

Displaced residential occupiers and protected intending occupiers can force entry without a court order.

Applying as homeless if you are squatting

Squatting is usually a last resort. It isn't a long-term option if you are homeless. You will almost certainly be evicted.

Squatters are classed as homeless because they don't have a legal right to live anywhere.

You could consider applying to your local council for help as a homeless person.

Find out more about applying as homeless.

If you are single and homeless, the council should provide you with advice on finding somewhere to stay. In some areas, specialist services may provide emergency help as an alternative to sleeping rough.

The council may have a legal duty to provide temporary accommodation if you are:

  • eligible for assistance (most people are eligible, but generally asylum seekers and some other categories of people who have lived abroad are not), and
  • in priority need (for example, if you are pregnant, have children or are vulnerable)

Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.

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