Squatters and the law
(The Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2001 & Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012)
The new criminal rules came into force on 1st September 2012.
The existing civil system was established in 1995 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It attempted to protect ordinary homeowners whose property was empty and broken into by squatters. The court procedure of 1995 and the Interim Possession order (IPO) allowed for a fast track eviction process in specific circumstances. In 2001 The Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules brought this area into line with the new possession procedures for other types of property and property occupiers.
Squatting under the earlier framework was not itself a criminal offence, and in order to become a criminal offence it had to take place alongside other criminal acts such as criminal damage, abusive behaviour etc. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has now brought about changes which create a criminal offence to trespass in residential property.
Who is a squatter?
A squatter is a person who is in a residential building as a trespasser, having entered as a trespasser, who knows or ought to know that they are a trespasser and is living in the building or intends to live there for any period (s144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012).
Who is not a squatter?
Occupiers holding over at the end of their agreements are not squatters (even if they leave and re-enter the building) (s144(2)) because they originally occupied the premises lawfully. The distinction is important, as many procedures available to evict squatters cannot be used against former licensees or ex-tenants.