The Government have announced that their amendments to the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill will include a clause to make squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence, with up to 51 weeks imprisonment. They are due to debate and possibly vote on the amendment today (Tuesday 1st November) in the House of Commons.
Over 95% of respondents to the Government’s ‘Options for Dealing with Squatters’ consultation opposed further legislation, arguing that existing law already provided strong protection to home owners to prevent their property from being squatted.
However, the Government have made one important concession. A number of groups (including Cardiff Gypsy & Traveller Project, Community Law Partnership, Garden Court Chambers and the New Traveller Association) had pointed out that any definition of a building which included land adjacent to a building might catch Gypsies and Travellers who, especially in urban areas, may have no alternative but to stop on disused land next to a building.
The Government noted concerns of groups representing Gypsies and Travellers that any new offence could criminalise Gypsy and Traveller encampments on land ancillary to the buildings protected by any new offence. Respondents indicated that it was quite common for Gypsies and Travellers to encamp on land outside disused factories and warehouses, particularly in urban areas. The Government has decided to limit the offence to residential buildings, however, and it will not extend to the land ancillary to those buildings at this stage.