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The press has been full of stories recently about how much of a headache squatters can be. Earlier this year, for example, there were mass protests outside St Paul's Cathedral.
The Government decided last year that a stricter regime was required in order to try and deter squatters.
The Ministry of Justice ("MoJ") therefore opened a consultation in July 2011 focusing on various options for dealing with squatting, which included criminalising squatting in buildings. The consultation period closed on 5 October 2011. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was then amended to introduce a new offence of squatting in a residential building (section 144). The Act obtained Royal Assent on 1 May 2012, but section 144 has not yet come into force.
The new offence will be committed where a person:
- enters a residential building as a trespasser;
- lives there or intends to live there for a period of time; and
- knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser.
The penalty for the offence will be imprisonment for a term of not more than 51 weeks or a fine (or both).
Trespassers who enter residential buildings prior to the commencement of section 144 will still be caught by its provisions. However, section 144 will not extend to anyone holding over after the end of a lease or a licence.
The MoJ remain concerned about squatting in commercial properties and have stated that they will look to deal with squatting in commercial properties by improving the current civil procedures and the enforcement of existing criminal offences, such as criminal damage and burglary.
Please do get in touch if you want to know more.
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