LONDON, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Britain's housing minister said he expects "quick and decisive action" when a new law cracking down on squatters takes effect this weekend.
The legislation -- set to go into effect Saturday -- redefines squatters as criminals in England and Wales. The law allows police to evict those occupying buildings without the owner's permission, The Guardian reported.
Housing Minister Grant Schapp told The Daily Telegraph he was "amazed" squatting was not already a crime and that homeowners with squatters on their property faced weeks of court hearings before they could reclaim their homes.
Schapp said rather than homeowners going through the ordeal of court hearings, evicting squatters under the new law should take nothing more than a call to the police, who he expects to respond "promptly."
"Hard working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first -- this new offense will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting."
Squatters face as much as six months in prison and fines of as much as 5,000 pounds (almost $8,000).
Advocacy groups say the law will increase the number of people living on the streets. They estimate as many as 20,000 people live in housing where they are not legal tenants.