The new law criminalising squatting in people’s homes has certainly hit the headlines over the last few days. Despite much trumpeting by government ministers about how it will benefit homeowners, it seems that I am not the only one to question how much this law will help change things.
Law criminalising squatting has existed since 1977, but the difficulties of getting it enforced have meant that it has had little deterrent effect. So will things now be any better? Housing Minister Grant Shapps is quoted as saying “this new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting. We’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear: entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence. ”
Squatters will be aware of the law's loopholes
But if squatters have already moved into a property, it is really too late for the owners. They are then faced with the difficulties of getting them out. Even if the police do take a proactive approach and arrest squatters before owners ask them to – something which I think is unlikely to happen very often – the owner will still have the mess to clear up afterwards.
Justice minister Crispin Blunt seems to think that squatting will cease, arguing “For too long, squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Not any more. ”
But my view is that the new law will do little or nothing to deter squatters from moving into a property. They will probably be well aware of the precise details of the legislation, and will try to persuade police that they are in a home legitimately, and so are not committing any offence. Even when squatters are arrested, immediate steps would have to be taken to secure a property or more squatters will move in – or the original squatters, having been released on bail, will move straight back again!
Advice to stop squatters before they enter the property
Prevention is better than cure, so homeowners should make absolutely sure that their house is secure before leaving it unattended.
Here are some anti-squatting tips:
- don’t leave spare keys where anyone can find them
- change the locks when buying a house, especially if it has previously been rented out
- install good locks that can’t easily be forced
- have a good-quality alarm installed and make sure that it is set when leaving the house
- make sure all windows are properly secured and locked
- ask a trusted neighbour to keep an eye on the property while you are away, and let them know how you can be contacted in an emergency (or even employ a house-sitting agency)
- don’t let anyone have a key to carry out work in your absence