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Criminal offences and squatting

This content applies to England

The situations where a squatter may be committing a criminal offence. Situations where a squatter may be able to take criminal action to tackle violence or harassment s/he has suffered.

Criminal offence of squatting

With effect from 1 September 2012, a criminal offence will apply to a person living or intending to live in a residential building, who knowingly entered as a trespasser. It should be noted that in order to prove the offence, the prosecution must prove that the trespasser is 'living' or 'intending to live' in the building; merely being in it is not enough. A squatter who was given permission by another squatter to enter the building will be committing an offence.[1]

The term 'building' includes any structure or part of a structure, even if it is temporary or moveable. The term 'residential' means it was designed or adapted for living in before the squatters entered.

A squatter can be arrested and, if convicted, may be fined and/or imprisoned. A uniformed police constable with reasonable cause to believe that a person is guilty of an offence can arrest the person without a warrant.

The legislation is retroactive and a person who entered and lives in a residential building as a trespasser before 1 September 2012 will be committing a criminal offence.

The offence does not apply to anyone who had previously been a tenant or licensee of the premises, even if they leave and re-enter the building. It also does not apply to anyone squatting in commercial premises[2] or to Gypsies or Travellers living on unauthorised sites.

The Ministry of Justice has issued a circular explaining the different elements of the offence. It also encourages joint working between police, local authorities and homelessness services when enforcing the offence.[3]

Emergency advice and legal support

Squatters Legal Network provides emergency advice and legal support for people threatened with eviction or arrested under this new offence. Its solicitors operates a 24-hours helpline on 0845 307 0004.

Other offences by squatters

Under section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, a squatter commits an offence if s/he fails to leave accommodation after being asked to leave by or on behalf of a displaced residential occupier or protected intended occupier (see the page on Eviction without a court order for information). It is also an offence for a squatter to resist or obstruct an officer of the court in the course of an eviction.[4] Further, a squatter who remains in the property or returns to it after an interim possession order has been served commits an offence. See the page on Interim possession orders for more details.

However, it is rare for squatters to be prosecuted for offences that occur when they enter premises. If they are prosecuted, it may be for criminal damage[5] or for being on enclosed premises for an unlawful purpose.[6]

Offences against squatters

Squatters may be able to take action against violence or persistent harassment using, for example, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Criminal Law Act 1977 (see the page on eviction without a court order for more information), and/or the Criminal Damage Act 1971 (see the section on Harassment and antisocial behaviour for more information on harassment).

[1] s.144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012; Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2012 SI 2012/1956 (C.77).

[2] Although squatting is a criminal offence if a person trespasses on diplomatic or consular premises (s.9 Criminal Law Act 1977), railway premises, dockyards, airports and in explosives factories and stores.

[3] Offence of Squatting in a Residential Building, Circular 2012/04, Ministry of Justice, August 2012.

[4] s.10 Criminal Law Act 1977.

[5] s.1 Criminal Damage Act 1971.

[6] s.4 Vagrancy Act 1824.

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