This content applies to England only.
Housing laws vary between England and Scotland. Get advice relating to Scotland
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 is when somebody enters and lives in a property or on land without the permission of the owner or the person legally entitled to occupy it (for example, a tenant).
Squatting isn't a legal term, but is commonly used to describe a trespasser who has entered and lives in a property without the permission of the owner or another person legally entitled to occupy it.
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 now a criminal offence. Squatters can be arrested by the police anf 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. In some cases the person with a right to occupy or live in the property doesn't have to get a court order first – this applies if you are:
- squatting in a property and excluding somebody from their home (a ‘displaced residential occupier’) – for example, if they were on holiday
- squatting in a property that somebody is about to move into (a ‘protected intending occupier’), such as a homebuyer or a new tenant.
In either of these cases, if you are squatting and refuse to leave when you are asked to, you can be arrested.
Otherwise, if you are squatting and neither of the situations above applies to you, the owner or landlord will have to get a court order to evict you – for example, if you are squatting in a property that was run down and needed work to be carried out before it could be sold or rented out.
In most cases the court will automatically give the owner or landlord the right to get back into the property. If you still don’t leave, they can also ask the court bailiffs to evict you and your belongings from the property.
It is illegal to use violence to evict squatters
It is illegal for the owner or landlord to use or threaten you with violence. This is the case even if the owner or landlord has a court order to evict you.
It is illegal for an owner, landlord or tenant to use force, such as breaking down the door, to get into the property while you or another squatter are inside, unless they are a 'displaced residential occupier' or a 'protected intending occupier'.
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.
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).
In an emergency, always get advice about what to do next - use our advice services directory to find local advice. Even if the council has refused to help you in the past, it is always worth reapplying as homeless. Some people could be entitled to help from social services even if the housing department of your local council can't or won't help.