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New legislation to criminalise serial squatters

A radical change in the law has been enforced to criminalise squatters who occupy residential buildings for the first time in England and Wales - signalling the end of squatters' rights.

The offence will now be punishable by a maximum prison term of up to six months, a maximum £5,000 fine, or both.

Kristina Stoddern, Partner at Liverpool law firm Maxwell Hodge said: “It’s a positive step to see more being done to protect owners of vacant properties, but I’m not confident that this new legislation will have the intended impact.

"Considering a large majority of squatters would be otherwise homeless and unemployed, a fine or imprisonment may not be much of a deterrent.”

The Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society are strongly opposed the creation of a new criminal offence, arguing that the current law was effective and that unnecessary new regulation should be avoided.

Kristina said: “To some extent I am in agreement with the Law Society, we already have protection in place for homeowners, so whether it is really necessary to bring in new legislation is questionable. The Criminal law Act 1977 already protects homeowners and makes it a criminal offence for a squatter to remain in a property.” 

She added: “The new legislation is also badly drafted and doesn’t cover things, such as your garden, so for example it won’t help if you have squatters in your shed or outbuildings.”

The change in the law affects only residential, not commercial premises.