On 1 September 2012 squatting in a residential building became an offence under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (“the Act”). Those found to be squatting in residential premises can now be fined a maximum of £5,000, imprisoned for up to six months or both.
This offence was introduced to afford homeowners and lawful occupiers greater protection from squatters occupying their homes. The offence is limited only to residential property which includes any structure or part of a structure that has been designed or adapted as a place to live prior to its occupation by squatters. This includes permanent structures such as houses and flats and also moveable structures such as residential prefabs, park homes or caravans. The offence is committed when someone trespasses in a residential property with the intention of living there for a period. It does not apply to tenants who have accrued arrears of rent and only applies to those found squatting in premises on or after the 1st September 2012.
In this case Alex Haigh, Anthony Ismond and Michelle Blake were discovered squatting in a residential property in Cumberland Street having been residing there for approximately two months. They were arrested on 2nd September 2012 and pleaded guilty to the offence of squatting pursuant to the Act. Ismond was fined £100 and recalled to jail on a licence, Haigh was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison and Blake will be sentenced at a later date.
This case shows that the Court intends to utilise this offence as a deterrent to those intending to squat in residential premises and the Ministry of Justice has stated that it enables “quick and decisive action to protect homeowners”.