'Criminalise squatting'

November 11, 2011, 3:00 PM GMT+0

81% Britons think squatting laws should be changed to make it a criminal offence; 13% disagree

Eight in ten Britons think squatting should be made a criminal offence, while only one in ten would oppose such a change, our poll can reveal.

Debates over the legality of squatting have provoked pro-squatters demonstrations within a kilometre of parliament (which in themselves constitute trespassing) in the past few weeks, while stories of squatters occupying the homes of wealthy and high profile figures have frequently hit the front pages over recent months.

  • 82% of Brits think the law on squatting should be changed to make it a criminal offence
  • Just 13% think the law on squatting should be left as it is
  • A significant 93% of Conservative voters think the law should be changed as opposed to 75% of Labour supporters and 77% of Liberal Democrats

Homeowners need more support

New government legislation could see squatters face a fine or even imprisonment for trespassing on residential property. Under these proposals, homeowners’ property rights would supersede ‘squatter rights’ when forcing unwanted occupiers out, and the issue would become a criminal rather than civil matter, with trespassers facing imprisonment.

Currently, the entering of a genuinely unoccupied building without force or incurring damage is not a criminal offence. Initially, squatters can only be forced to leave if you can prove that you are currently living in the squatted property, or imminently intend to do so – and even then, a court order is sometimes required.

Some are strongly in favour of the proposal to reform squatting legalisation, which, supporters claim, will better protect homeowners’ rights and improve the enforcement of the existing legal framework.

‘Emotive subject’

However, others say squatting is an ‘emotive subject’. Joseph Blake, from Squatters Action for Secure Homes, argues that amending the law will ‘criminalise the homeless in the middle of a housing crisis’ and could ‘force people out on to the streets’.

The latest government figures reportedly show the estimated number of squatters in the UK at 20,000.

See the survey details and full results here