Change in Law in Sight on ‘Squatters Rights’?

As of 13th July 2011, a new crime of squatting has been proposed by the Ministry of Justice as part of a range of options designed to protect both home and business property owners from the misery, stress, cost and incredible hassle of squatters.

The options up for public consultation could make squatting a criminal offence for the first time and abolish so-called ‘squatters’ rights’ which currently prevent rightful commercial property owners from using force to break back in.

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said: “Far too many people have to endure the misery, expense and incredible hassle of removing squatters from their property. Hard working home and business owners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first.”

The consultation paper has been published on the Ministry of Justice website and has two purposes:

  • to gather more information about the nature and extent of squatting in England and Wales
  • to invite views on whether, and how, existing criminal and civil mechanisms should be strengthened to deal with it

Criminalising squatting is one option that the government is considering, but depending on the views of consultees, other options could be explored. For example, the government could consider whether existing offences and civil mechanisms relating to squatting could be strengthened. Or whether the problems caused by squatters would reduce if existing offences, such as criminal damage and burglary, were rigorously enforced.

The consultation focuses on squatters who occupy buildings and their immediate surroundings. It does not concern unauthorised encampments on open land which raise different questions of law and practice.

The Government has stated that the consultation is aimed at anyone who might be affected by these proposals. This might be someone who has been the victim of squatting, or someone who has experience of using the current law or procedures to get squatters evicted. The views of the law enforcement agencies, local authorities, housing associations, homeless charities or other affected organisations are also said to be welcome.

The consultation follows Ministry of Justice proposals last month to stop squatters getting legal aid to fight eviction as part of reforms to civil legal aid. It closes on 5 October 2011 and is only concerned with the law as it affects England and Wales.

14th July 2011