Squatting doesn't provide you with any security of tenure, and you can be evicted from a squat very easily. If squatting is your only option, the council may be able to help you to find accommodation.
From September 1st 2012, squatting in a residential property became a criminal offence. Squatters can now be arrested and if convicted, can be sent to prison for up to 6 months or fined up to £5,000, or both.
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 became a criminal offence on 1 September 2012. Squatters can be arrested by the police and if convicted by a court, can be sent to prison for up to 6 months, 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 and you could be arrested even if the damage is minimal.
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
Even if they are not arrested, squatters can be evicted more easily than many other people. The owner or the person with a legal right to live there could enter and change the locks while you are out as long as there is no-one in the property who opposes this.
If you or someone else is in the property then they would have to get a court order if you refuse to leave. In most cases the court will automatically give them the right to get back into the property. If you still don’t leave after a court order, they must ask the court bailiffs to evict you.
In a minority of cases the owner or person with a right to live in the property doesn't have to get a court order first. This applies if they are a:
- displaced residential occupier – somebody who was occupying the property as their home immediately before it was squatted, or
- 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 will usually be a last resort and it isn't a long-term option if you are homeless – you will almost certainly be evicted.
Squatters will be 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 about how to apply 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).
You could be entitled to help from the social services department of your local council if you are:
In an emergency, always get advice about what to do next.
Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.
Even if the council has refused to help you in the past, it is always worth reapplying as homeless.