Squatting – an alternative lifestyle, a political statement, or a solution to a housing problem? If you’re thinking about squatting, make sure you know where you stand legally.
Why should I squat?
A lack of decent housing is still a major reason for squatting.
All kinds of people squat – those with regular jobs who don’t earn enough to pay the rent, ex-armed forces people who are unable to find work. And then there are people who choose to live alternatively due to political beliefs such as artists, musicians, travellers, and those who disagree with private housing ownership.
“There are people squatting from all walks of life,” says Joe Blake from Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes. “Young people are having to live at home with their families for longer because of high rents and a general housing crisis. Housing is the key issue of our generation.”
Is it illegal to squat?
In 2012, the law on squatting in the UK changed and it’s now illegal to squat in a residential building, like a house or a flat (thanks, Government). Squatter’s rights are a thing of the past. If you get caught squatting, it could lead to six months in prison, a £5,000 fine, or both (though some people prosecuted under the new law have had their convictions overturned – find out more).
It’s not a crime to squat in non-residential buildings – i.e. commercial property or land that isn’t designed to be lived in. That said, it’s illegal to cause damage while entering or inside the property, or if you stay there once you’ve been told to leave by a court.
It’s also illegal to steal from the property, use utilities like electricity or gas without getting permission first, fly-tipping or not obeying a noise abatement notice.
How do I get arrested for squatting?
The police must be able to prove that you knowingly entered the property as a trespasser with the intent to live there.
What if I’m squatting because I have nowhere else to go?
If you’re not choosing to squat, and are doing it more out of desperation, you’re legally classed as homeless and may be entitled to help.
If you can’t afford to pay your rent, it’s best to get advice from Citizens Advice rather than try to stay and ‘squat’ in your rental property.
‘If you’re doing it because you don’t have anywhere to live, get help from a housing charity or the council first,” says Danny, an ex-squatter who was illegally evicted by his landlord. “Temporary accommodation can be better than a lot of squats, and less of a drain on your time and resources.
“But if you want to get into it for other reasons, go and visit an existing squat to see if it’s right for you.”
How do I find a place to squat?
Finding out about places to squat can prove tricky and often it comes down to a combination of word of mouth, researching the squatting networks out there, and blind luck. Squatting groups exist in most big cities but, because they don’t want to attract too much negative attention, they tend to be quite closed.
For more practical guidance, the Advisory Service for Squatters produces a handbook on the legality and best practices for squatting, and gives friendly help and advice on getting a place.
Is squatting for me?
Joe is clear that squatting is not for the faint-hearted: “Squatting is certainly not for everyone, particularly in winter as it can be really cold,” he says. “Getting moved on all the time is tiring, and there always has to be one person around to defend the squat and make sure everyone’s belongings are safe.
‘But squatting has a proud history of turning around derelict buildings – fixing up places with the help of the local community and putting on events. It can be a great way of finding your independence and it reduces your reliance on the state.”
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
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