From midnight tonight it will be illegal to squat in residential properties. The new law scraps so-called 'squatters rights', and anyone who does so in England and Wales will face up to six months in prison. Ministers say it'll put an end to squatting and help protect homeowners, but campaigners have warned that criminalising squatting in residential buildings would lead to an increase in some of the most vulnerable homeless people sleeping rough.
The offence will carry a maximum sentence of up to six months jail for persistent offenders, a £5, 000 fine - or both. It follows a Government consultation on the issue last summer.
But homeless charity Crisis says there are concerned it could criminalise vulnerable people, leaving them in prison or facing a fine they cannot pay.
"It also misses the point," Leslie Morphy, the charity's chief executive, said. "There was already legal provision that police and councils could, and should, have used to remove individuals in the rare instances of squatting in someone's home.
"And the new law also applies to empty homes - of which there are 720,000 in England alone, including many that are dilapidated and abandoned - criminalising homeless people when they are just trying to find a place off the streets."
But justice minister Crispin Blunt said: "For too long, squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs.
"Not any more.
"Hard-working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first - this new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting."
Hove MP Mike Weatherley has been campaigning for a change in the law.