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Justice Minister proposes making squatting criminal offence

"Hard working home and business owners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first.

"Today’s consultation is a first step to achieving this. I am clear that the days of so-called ‘squatters’ rights’ must end and squatters who break the law receive a proper punishment."

In the consultation "Options for dealing with squatting" the Government puts forward for discussion a number of plans to better protect home and business owners. These include:

* Introducing a new criminal offence of squatting, which could result in a prison sentence for the most persistent offenders;
* Abolishing so called “squatters’ rights” which prevent legitimate occupiers of commercial property from using force to re-enter their properties if they have been occupied by squatters;
* Expanding existing offences so that business property owners have the same level of protection as displaced homeowners; and
* Working with the enforcement authorities to help ensure squatters are prosecuted for any other offences they commit – for example criminal damage, burglary or using electricity without permission.

The consultation paper asks for the public’s views on a range options for overhauling outdated laws, some of which date back to the 1970s.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: "I want to see an end to the misery that squatters cause and slam the door on their so-called ‘rights’, tipping the scales of justice in favour of the law-abiding homeowner once and for all.

"We’ve already taken steps to crack down on this menace, including publishing guidance for property owners to keep squatters out, and allocating £100million towards bringing empty homes back into use.

"So there is no excuse for anyone to bring disruption and destruction to property owners’ lives by squatting, and that’s why it’s vital we look to take steps to tackle this problem."

In response, David Salusbury, chairman of the National Landlords Association said: "The NLA strongly welcomes the Government’s move to end the distress and misery caused by squatters.

"We do not, however, feel the proposals fully address the central issue of property owners being able to regain possession if squatters occupy their premises.

"The NLA does not believe that criminalising individual squatters will alone solve the problem.

"At present, it can take landlords upwards of three months to lawfully regain possession of their property from squatters. The NLA would like to see landlords being able to demand that squatters leave immediately, and also automatically regain lawful possession. The Police should be able to support landlords in such action through amendments to their existing statutory powers, such as Exclusion Notices which should prevent the squatters from returning.

"We would like to see the Government put the rights of property owners at the core of this policy."

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