UK

Guide to stop squatters published online

Houses to let
Image caption Landlords can find evicting squatters is a problem

A guide for homeowners, aimed at stopping squatters "invading" their property, has been published online.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps says he wants to end the "anti-social, undesirable and unfair" practice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Squatting is a crime in Scotland.

The guide outlining people's rights is a response to websites set up to help squatters get round the law.

The Advisory Service for Squatters said Mr Shapps was "scaremongering".

Changing locks

The new advice highlights that people can apply for an Interim Possession Order, requiring squatters to leave their property within 24 hours or face up to six months in jail.

Owners may need to provide evidence that the property is theirs.

Mr Shapps told the BBC: "Squatting is anti-social, undesirable, and unfair on homeowners who find they have their homes taken over.

"This government is not prepared to stand that situation continuing, and in particular we're keen to provide better advice for people who find that they are victims of squatters as well."

He said it was a "huge issue" for families who found squatters had invaded and said it could be very difficult for landlords to remove them.

Mr Shapps took aim at the ASS, which according to its website "provides legal and practical advice to squatters and other homeless people".

He said: "Surprisingly, there's an awful lot of advice out there for squatters, including a squatters advice line - an office almost acting as an estate agent for squatters... but actually very little help for people who find they're the victim."

"Ask someone to look out for your property if you go away," he advised.

"It shouldn't be that the squatters get the upper hand - that's happening far too often at the moment and the government is determined to put people back in charge of their own property."

But Katharine Hibbert, a former squatter who works informally for the ASS, said Mr Shapps was scaremongering as squatters "do not and cannot invade [people's] homes".

She told the BBC: "It's really unnecessarily alarmist to talk about people's homes in this kind of context.

"You have to find a place that's empty and the law as it stands does protect homes that are in use as homes."

A squatter living in a pub in London told the BBC he could not afford rent in the city while he looked for work.

The Latvian national, giving his name as Jason, said there were lots of empty properties around.

"I just walk around the area I want to live and then I find houses which look empty and I check them over a period of time and see if they're really empty," he said.

"It's better than people living on the street. I mean most squatters live, like, normally, not like damaging stuff."

In Scotland, squatting is a criminal as well as a civil offence but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is a civil offence only.

In Scotland, owners can evict squatters without notice and they could face a fine or a prison sentence.

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