SQUATTING WITH VEHICLES? June 2022
How might the new law affect you?
The Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has now been passed and will come into force on June 28th 2022. The new law includes provisions designed to attack travellers. It is mostly aimed at people living on open land. However this leaflet covers how those provisions and offences might affect people who are squatting in buildings but who also have a vehicle parked on land attached to that building.
More general advice is expected from Community Law Partnership at Travellers Advice Team and Friends, Families and Travellers.
WHEN DOES THE LAW APPLY?
The new provisions give the police or landowner (which the legislation confusingly refers to as “the occupier”) the power to direct people to leave squatted land immediately if all of the following apply:
(a) you are squatting on land without permission and are living or intend to live there;
(b) you have at least one vehicle with you (vehicle includes cars, vans, caravans, trailers, even if the wheels have been taken off, and includes any load carried by vehicle); and
(c) you have caused or are deemed likely to cause, significant damage, disruption or distress. Disruption potentially includes preventing the owner from using the land.
IF all of the above grounds are made out, it is an offence not to leave when directed by the owner or the polce or to return to the land in question within 12 months of the notice.
POSSIBLE PENALTIES AND SANCTIONS:
Police can arrest you and / or seize the vehicle if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you of the offence
You could be prosecuted. The maximum penalty for the offence is 3 months in prison or a fine (note that the police / prosecution would need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you committed the offence and the police may use anything you say to them as evidence against you)
THE NEW LAW DOESN’T APPLY IF…
you are living in a van which is parked in a garage or other structure (unless it’s an agricultural building or scheduled monument). So for example you should be okay if you are parked in a derelict warehouse.
you are neither living or intending to live outdoors (or in a vehicle parked outdoors). So if you’ve squatted a building and have parked your van outside, the safest argument is to tell the police that you’re only occupying the building and that you’re not living in the vehicle.
CAUTION – THESE ARGUMENTS HAVEN’T BEEN TESTED YET !
if you’re living in a vehicle on enclosed land such as a yard or car park which is linked with a building you could try telling the police the law doesn’t apply because the vehicle is parked “within the curtilage of a building”. You can also try referring the police to Section 12 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 which states that Premises includes “any site comprising any building together with any land ancillary thereto”. This argument is not tested, and remember that this defence does not apply to agricultural buildings or scheduled monuments.
LIMITS ON POLICE POWERS
Other crew members: The power of arrest only applies in relation to the person the police suspect was living outside or in the vehicle, and there is no general power to arrest or evict other people in your group who are living in a building..
Powers of entry: There is no specific power for the police to force entry to a building to arrest someone for breaching the new law. To break into your building legally because someone is parked outside, the police would either need to apply to court for a warrant, or come up with some other justification to break in (e.g. suspicion of criminal damage, abstraction of electricity, squatting in a residential building etc). If the police try it on:
a) film the police;
b) ask them what powers of entry they are using; and
c[ tell them that the offence is summary only and that there is no power to force entry to the building without a warrant under PACE.
It is likely that the police will be confused about these powers when then first come in and that they will get things wrong. If the police try to use these powers against you contact ASS for further advice and urgent legal support.