Clause 144 of the LASPO Act makes all forms of squatting a criminal offence in England and Wales. At present it is a civil matter unless the squatters break other laws, such as criminal damage or displacing a lawful occupant, but according to the London Evening Standard from September 2012 it will be a criminal offence.
Squatters may face up to six months in jail and a maximum £5,000 fine if they squat in a residential building.
The LASPO Act also introduces a wide range of reforms to the justice system as well as delivering structural reforms to the administration of legal aid. The Act removes legal aid for wide areas of law including most private family law, social welfare law, clinical negligence, education and employment.
Legal aid will no longer be available where legal help is not absolutely necessary – for example where a landlord and tenant are arguing over routine maintenance. The Act aims to encourage people to take more responsibility for exploring the range of practical advice available to them to tackle problems early.
The Legal Services Commission has provided an overview of the changes to legal aid. The following will be out of scope of legal aid from 1 April 2013:
- asylum support (except where accommodation is claimed)
- housing matters, except those where the home is at immediate risk (excluding those who are “squatting”), homelessness assistance, housing disrepair cases that pose a serious risk to life or health and anti-social behaviour cases in the county court
- welfare benefits; except for advice and assistance for welfare benefits appeals in the Upper Tribunal; and advice, assistance and representation for welfare benefits appeals in the higher courts.
Law Society president John Wotton warned, "The consequence of this act will be that, in some very important areas like housing and welfare benefits law, vulnerable members of society will find legal advice and representation in the courts, funded by legal aid, more difficult to obtain."