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Squatting in a residential building is to become a criminal offence in England and Wales from tomorrow.

The maximum penalty will be six months in jail or a £5,000 fine, or both.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the law has been introduced following public concern about the harm that trespassers can cause.

The offence will protect owners and lawful occupiers of any type of residential building. This includes homeowners and tenants who might have been excluded from their homes by trespassers.

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt told the BBC that this new law is about: “Justice and fairness for homeowners who should not have their homes stolen by squatters.”

He says: “Only when you make the request to the squatters to leave, that’s when the current offence happens. Now it’s actually the fact of the trespass that should or is known to the trespasser, that they are in a home improperly then that is the criminal offense. So, the whole enforcement exercise now becomes very much clearer and it’s the fact of the offence that will lead to police action.”

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, is less than impressed with the law change. She is quoted as saying: "There was already legal provision that police and councils could, and should, have used to remove individuals in the rare instances of squatting in someone''s home.

“The new law also applies to empty homes - of which there are 720,000 in England alone, including many that are dilapidated and abandoned - criminalising homeless people when they are just trying to find a place off the streets. Ultimately the Government needs to tackle why homeless people squat in the first place by helping not punishing them."

August 31, 2012
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