Squatting is when someone occupies an empty or abandoned property which they don't own or rent, and without the owner's permission.
The term 'trespasser' is used to describe someone who has no legal right to occupy premises. The term 'squatter' has no legal meaning, but is used to distinguish trespassers who have never had a right to occupy from former tenants and licensees. From 1 September 2012, squatting in residential buildings is a criminal offence in many circumstances (see below). It is illegal to get into a property by breaking in or damaging windows and doors and squatters can be arrested even if the damage is minimal. Unauthorised occupation covers a multitude of situations including unauthorised assignment / exchange, people staying on following death of tenant, residents who have no right to succeed, children remaining after the parents have moved.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 creates a new criminal offence of 'squatting in a residential building'. Section 144(1) of the Act states:
'A person commits an offence if:
(a) the person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser,
(b) the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser, and
(c) the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.'
· The term "building" includes any structure or part of a structure, even if it is a temporary or moveable structure. The term "residential" means it was already designed or adapted to be lived in before the squatters entered.
· Section 144 (2) confirms that a person who was originally a tenant or licence of the building does not commit an offence, even if they leave and later return to the premises.
· Section 144 (4) states that the fact a person was given permission by another trespasser does not prevent that person from being a trespasser themselves. A person who enters the building as a trespasser before the Act comes into force cannot use this as a defence.
· A person convicted of an offence is liable to imprisonment for up to six months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (£5,000), or both. However if section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is brought into force the maximum term of imprisonment will increase to 51 weeks.
Further information and guidance for homeowners is available at:
Further information for people who are squatting or find themselves homeless can be found at Shelter - Homelessness - Squatting.