At least three cases have now been reported of police using the new law which makes squatting in residential property a criminal offence. In Brighton and London arrests were made, and at least one of the offenders has already been sent to prison.
Meanwhile in Southend-on-Sea police used their powers under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) to enter property being occupied by squatters, and secure vacant possession for the owner.
Police using new power of entry to evict squatters
It is good news for property owners that the police are actively using their powers of entry under the Act. However, it is interesting to note that in two of these cases the properties were owned by Housing Associations, rather than the private owner-occupiers for whose benefit the new law was passed.
The new criminal offence was created as a response to some high-profile cases where homeowners returned from holidays to find their homes occupied by squatters – a situation where squatting would have already been a criminal offence under previous law.
New law will benefit housing associations and non-resident landlords
So it looks as if the new law may be of more use to housing associations and owners who let their property rather than occupy it themselves.
Speaking about the raid in Southend, Anita McGinley from South Essex Homes said:
"This could be a significant piece of legislation that, in partnership with the police, could assist us obtaining possession of a property. In the past six months we have pursued possession action against squatters who took over a flat in Malvern. This was both costly and timely and led to negative media attention. ”
It is extremely encouraging that the new criminal offence of squatting in a residential building, which came into effect at the beginning of this month, is enabling the police and other agencies to take quick and decisive action to protect homeowners against squatting.
The new law only relates to squatting in residential property, so owners of commercial or other types of property will still need to go through the courts before they can legally evict squatters.
The police will no doubt continue to be wary of getting involved in cases where an alleged squatter is in fact a tenant or licensee. As Neighbourhood Policing Inspector Bill Potter of Essex Police said:
“The new legislation is not designed to deal with disagreements between landlords and their tenants or issues with authorised tenants remaining within properties. These disputes will remain subject of the appropriate civil law. ”