The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on a white paper which seeks to criminalise squatting of buildings where there is no resident. All sides of the debate are publicly making their cases. Here’s mine. (My formal response to the consultation is at the end).
The UK has various laws on squatting:
I have just one home, and obviously I am sometimes away for a few days, on holiday or staying with other people. If someone gets into it while I am away, and squats in it, I can get an order as a “displaced residential occupier”, and I can obtain, within a few days, an interim possession order (IPO) which will enable me to enter the premises at will. Any unlawful occupiers who refuse to leave within 24 hours of the granting of an IPO is committing a criminal offense.
To me, that is insufficient. There doesn’t appear to be a deterrent against squatting in my house in the first place, (as long as I can’t prove they broke in themselves), just against staying there after I get an IPO. That is too late. Having had my house broken into and robbed in the past, I know that I don’t want anyone potentially defiling and contaminating my house for a minute, let alone the few days it would take to force them to leave. Who knows what damage and invasion of privacy they would do, especially in the 24 hours after they know they are being forced to leave?
There are arguments both ways about whether squatting should be criminalised (as it already is in Scotland):
Wikipedia: Squatting in England – Criminalisation
Guardian: Squatting law is being misrepresented to aid ministers’ reforms, claim lawyers
Guardian: Media and politicians are misleading about law on squatters
I can understand arguments for making sensible use of long-term-empty property. But my position here is much simpler in scope: I want it to be a criminal offense for anyone to squat in my home. That may be sufficient to deter anyone from trying it, and so avoid all the problems that I would otherwise face until the squatters leave. It is roughly equivalent to saying (in some hypothetical country): “instead of it just being an offense not to hand goods back within a day of taking them, we are making it a criminal offense to take goods in the first place”. I suggest the latter deters theft, while the former wouldn’t.
“Entering” is far worse than “breaking”. Indeed, having someone squatting in my home for a day or so, with access to personal and private correspondence and other important things of little monetary value, would be far worse to me than having my most resell-able (and insured!) goods stolen. So the offense of “entering” (necessary for squatting), whether or not it can be proved to involve “breaking”, needs to be at least as serious as the crime of “breaking and entering”, at least for my home and others like it.
It is argued that it is rare for squatters to use a domestic property unless it has been empty for a significant time, implying that it is unlikely that squatters will use my house. But if it is so rare, then few squatters would ever be affected by a change to the law to make it a criminal offense, so there should be no objection to such a change from people representing squatters.
My relevant human rights: Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life; The First Protocol, Article 1 – Protection of property.