In a country supposedly endangered by the encroaching threat of squatters, the 2012 revisions to the squatters law has so far resulted in only two convictions, leading to confusion over the implications of the law which made squatting an illegal offence.
The 2012 law was proposed by Hove MP Mike Weatherly, and purported to put an end to squatters invading occupied homes and impromptu tenants refusing to leave a house under the guises of so-called squatters’ rights.
Anyone found squatting could be arrested, whereas before evicting squatters required a case to be brought before the county court. However, only two successful convictions related to squatting have been made so far.
Izzy Köksal, an activist for squatting rights, said via Twitter: “They can’t enforce law criminalising squatting in abandoned residential buildings.”
She added that the Crown Prosecution Service ‘couldn’t prove people had trespassed’, which is an essential component of Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
Meanwhile, Inspector Roy Apps of Sussex Police said: “In September 2012 a new law came into effect making it a criminal offence to squat in a residential building and since that time there have been very few instances reported to the police with squatters using residential properties.
“The people who squat generally know and understand the criminal law and have access to advice.
“It will always be our intention to facilitate the lawful repossession of residential properties subject to the terms of the new act, but based upon the threats and risks posed, in some cases it may not be appropriate for officers to enter the building immediately.”
Many squatters are able to avoid encounters with the law through support agencies set up to advise would-be squatters. Furthermore, the issues with convicting an accused squatter have been illustrated in a number of court rulings over the past year, citing a lack of surveillance and other evidence proving the trespasser is a long-term occupant.
Commercial properties are considered to be particularly at risk, with the 2012 largely covering residential property, and Mr Weatherly has begun campaigning for an extension to the law.
“Owners of commercial premises … should have the same rights as owners of residential premises when it comes to removing squatters,” he said.