What is the difference between trespassing and squatting?

As a landowner, it’s essential to know the difference between trespassing and squatting to protect your property and avoid legal issues. Trespassing and squatting are two different concepts which can affect the ownership and possession of your land or property.  

In this blog post, we’ll explore the legal definitions of trespassing and squatting in the UK, how they are different, and what actions you can take as a property owner or manager to deal with them. 

What is the legal definition of trespassing in the UK? 

Trespassing is the act of entering someone’s property or land without permission. It’s a civil offence, which means it’s not a criminal offence, and the police can’t arrest someone for trespassing.  

However, property owners have the legal right to remove trespassers from their land or property. Trespassers can be liable for any damage caused to the property and may be sued for compensation. 

out of bounds land

How is squatting different from trespassing? 

Squatting is the act of occupying an empty property without the owner’s permission or consent. Unlike trespassing, squatting in residential buildings is a criminal offence in the UK.  

Squatters can be arrested and prosecuted, and they may face imprisonment or fines. Squatters can also be liable for any damage caused to the property and may be sued for compensation. 

The offence of squatting is covered under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. According to the law, anyone who enters a residential building as a trespasser and intends to live there or occupies the property is committing an offence.  

Can police remove squatters? 

Yes, the police can remove squatters from a property if there’s evidence that they have committed a criminal offence by occupying the property. However, the police can’t remove squatters from a property that’s not a residential building unless the owner obtains a court order. 

What are squatters rights in the UK? 

Squatters do not have any legal rights to occupy a property without the owner’s permission. However, if squatters have been in a property for a long time, they may be able to claim adverse possession or “squatters’ rights”.  

Adverse possession is a legal principle that allows someone who has occupied a property without permission for a certain period of time to claim ownership of the property. 

squatter house

In the UK, the period is 10 years for registered land and 12 years for unregistered land.  

To claim adverse possession, the squatters must prove that they have been in possession of the property for the required period, that they have used the property as if it were their own, and that they have excluded the owner from the property. 

How can trespassers be removed from private land? 

If you discover trespassers on your private land, you have the right to remove them, but you must do so lawfully. The first step is to ask them to leave and make it clear that they are not welcome on your land. If they refuse to leave, you can contact the police or a private enforcement agency to remove them. 

For more information in this, read our post: “How to deal with trespassers in the UK” 

How should squatters be removed from a property? 

If you discover squatters on your property, you must act quickly to remove them. The first step is to ask them to leave and make it clear that they are not welcome on your property.  

If they refuse to leave, you can obtain an eviction notice to remove them. An eviction notice is a legal document that gives the squatters notice to leave the property. The notice must comply with the requirements of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. 

If the squatters do not leave after the eviction notice, you can apply for a court order to obtain possession of the property. The court order will give you the legal right to evict the squatters from your property. However, you should note that the process of obtaining a court order can be time-consuming and costly. 

out of bounds

It’s also important to note that if the squatters have been in the property for a long time, they may have established some legal rights to the property. For example, after 28 days of known occupation, you may have difficulty enacting an IPO procedure. 

 In such a case, you may need to consult with a solicitor to understand the legal implications and take appropriate action. 

Read: “the implications of NOT removing squatters from your land” 


In conclusion, as a landowner or property manager, it’s essential to understand the difference between trespassing and squatting. If you discover trespassers or squatters on your property, you must take appropriate legal action to remove them to protect your property from damage and protect your ownership rights.  

If you need help with squatters or trespassers in the UK, Able Investigations are able to help with services covering squatters in commercial property, security on land which is being trespassed upon, traveller removal, protestor dispersal, and more.  

Our highly trained enforcement agents enact quick, effective evictions and removals which follow all legal legislation. In many cases, we are able to perform evictions on the same day you make contact with us. 

Fill in our contact form or call our 24/7 telephone at 0345 366 0000 for advice and assistance. 


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