Squatters to face fines and jail sentencing according to changes in the law. From Saturday, in England and Wales squatting in a residential building will be considered a criminal offence. From now on the police will be able to act immediately to squatting reports.
These changes are considered a great improvement of the system, as currently property owners are the ones responsible for the eviction of squatters. They need to take court action against the squatters and to prove they live in the property before being allowed to take any action against the squatters. According to the new law the maximum penalty for squatting will be six-month prison along with a £5,000 fine.
On the other hand the changes have been criticised by some organisations including the Law Society and the Criminal Bar Association. The new changes will affect mainly those living in abandoned and unoccupied properties however, there is little need for such sanctions in these areas.
There were claims that police failing to enforce laws currently in place was behind many of the current problems, with questions over whether the new offences would make any difference. The Metropolitan Police agreed that the current legislation on the matter was generally sufficient.
Homeless charities and campaign groups also raised their voice by saying that the new legislation would lead to criminalisation of vulnerable people. By forcing them to live rough and fine them, the government might make the squatting problem worse than it is.
“It will do nothing to address the underlying reasons why vulnerable people squat in the first place – their homelessness and a lack of affordable housing,” said Leslie Morphy, chief executive of national homeless charity Crisis. “Ultimately the government needs to tackle why homeless people squat in the first place by helping, not punishing, them.”
However Housing Minister Grant Shapps claimed that the government was “tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner” with the move.