On 1 September 2012 trespassing or squatting in residential property became a criminal offence.
Trespassing on commercial land is however not a criminal offence and trespassers will not be prosecuted.
The police do however have power under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to 'direct' trespassers who intend to reside on land to leave the land where:
- any of the trespassers have caused damage to land or property; or
- any of the trespassers have used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the owners/occupiers; or
- the trespassers have between them six or more vehicles on the land.
Further information on trespassers and the remedies available to land owners can be seen in our 'Trespassers will be prosecuted... or will they?' guide which can be viewed here.
The answer to the question whether trespassers would be prosecuted was no and we said that in our experience the police rarely used the powers afforded to them under the 1994 Act.
In many of the cases we have dealt with involving large numbers of travellers, occupying large sites with more than six vehicles on the land the police have directed our clients to seek possession orders and enforce those orders by High Court enforcement. That was so even in cases involving damage to land, including 'fly-tipping' and threatening behaviour.
The police simply do not have the resources to deal with large numbers of trespassers. However, the Government has issued a consultation - Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments which can be seen here and which closes on 4 March 2020.
It remains to be seen whether trespass of this nature will become a criminal offence. In the meantime the only real option for owners is to seek possession through the civil court and our LSAssetProtect team (see here) are on hand to advise and assist in protecting property, brands, staff and customers.
Government consults on new police powers to criminalise unauthorised encampments