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Gypsies, Travellers, and Illegal Encampments

There are many different people and groups who fit under the umbrella term Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. This can include Roma people, Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy Travellers, New Travellers, Liveaboard Boaters and Travelling Showpeople.

Romany Gypsies are the largest minority ethnic group among the travelling communities in Britain, whose ancestors migrated to the UK some 600 years ago

Travellers of Irish Heritage do not necessarily come immediately from Ireland, they may visit Ireland infrequently and for short periods only. It is thought that many Irish Travellers are descendants of people who lost their land during the potato famine in the mid nineteenth century.

New Travellers are a community of more recent origin, who live in alternative low cost mobile accommodation. They have adopted this ‘nomadic’ way of life for a variety of reasons, such as lifestyle change, homelessness, unemployment or environmental interests.

Issues to be considered

The Council will take a balanced view, assessing the needs of travellers, including health, education and welfare, as well as their impact on the community. Where possible, tolerance will be shown to short term encampments where there is no evidence of detrimental impact or unlawful activity.

Why do Gypsies & Travellers set up sites without permission?

The lack of public sites and the difficulties Gypsies and Travellers have in setting up their own sites has sometimes left them without the ability to access their basic rights to accommodation.  Many of the traditional stopping places that Gypsies and Travellers had used for decades have now disappeared because of urban expansion and development.

Does the District Council have a duty to move Gypsies & Travellers when they are camped without the landowner's permission on private land?

No. If Travellers are camped on District Council land, the Council can evict them, if necessary, using the proper and most appropriate powers to do so.  If they are camped on private land, this becomes the landowner's responsibility.

The general Government advice is that when Gypsies or Travellers are not causing a problem, the site may be tolerated. This is often referred to as ‘negotiated stopping’ and can be an appropriate response where families are passing through or staying for a short, defined time and where they are willing to engage with partners providing support and behave appropriately and responsibly.

If Gypsies & Travellers camp on my land what can I do?

Talk to them, and through negotiation, see if a leaving date can be agreed.  If this cannot be achieved you can take proceedings through the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules, 1998. There must be a minimum of two clear days between the service of documents and the Court hearing.

Alternatively, you can consider engaging the services of a bailiff company to follow a common law process that can often be implemented quickly.

The District Council may provide general advice and assistance: -

  • Land registry searches (chargeable)
  • Advice re. powers and contact details of companies used previously (other companies available)
  • Carrying out welfare checks
  • Liaison with GTLO (where required)
  • Provision of means to collate waste and waste collection
  • Site visits

Unless you have already obtained planning permission for a caravan site or you are a farmer and they are helping you with work e.g. fruit picking, then you could be in breach of planning controls if you let them stay on your land.

If the Councils want to, can they force Gypsies & Travellers to move immediately?

No. There are steps we must take first. We need to: -

  • be able to show that the Gypsies & Travellers are on land without consent;
  • make enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the Gypsies & Travellers and their children;
  • go through the proper processes in terms of serving notices and/or follow due processes in the Courts to gain the necessary authority to order the Gypsies & Travellers to leave the site.

What can the Police do?

Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence and the prevention of trespass is the responsibility of the landowner not the Police.  The duty of the Police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime. The Police will investigate criminal and Public Order offences.

Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives the Police powers to act in the event of trespass causing damage to land or to property, or the use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviours, but there are a number of caveats around numbers of individuals and vehicles on site and officers visiting an encampment site will determine whether to exercise the power or not.

Responding to unauthorised encampments

There are a range of eviction powers for unauthorised encampments, some of which can be exercised within hours and can be triggered if incidents of anti-social behaviour occur.

Each case will be considered on its own merits and circumstances, having due regard for the needs of the Gypsies or Travellers and the safety of the community, also taking into consideration any aggravating factors of crime or disorder.

We are committed to taking swift action to remove travellers from sensitive sites throughout the district (for example play parks, common areas and public car parks) and will provide necessary support to private landowners and Parishes.

Such support may include advice, means for collecting waste and carrying out welfare checks.

Common Law

(Landowner Only)

  • are used to regain possession of land;
  • does not require the involvement of the courts;
  • enforced by the landowner and/or private bailiffs where necessary;
  • does not provide any sanctions for the return of trespassers onto land
  • Usually used where immediate action required whereby the encampment is disrupting the ability for the settled community to make use of facilities or conduct their business.

This can be one of the quickest and simplest methods to remove problematic encampments. Usually, proof of ownership has to be provided (by way of land registry search/title deeds) and a form completed instructing bailiffs to serve a notice to vacate the land.  There are no statutory timescales, so as little as a couple of hours of notice could be given, but such timescale should be reasonable, depending on the circumstances. 

There will be a charge for serving the notice and further charges will be incurred should the Gypsies or Travellers remain on site.  This cost will be dependent on numbers of caravans and vehicles and how long it takes for such vehicles to be removed.

Although this method may not be the cheapest, it is usually the quickest method to use, particularly by Parish Council’s whose land is usually a community asset, for example football pitches or land which is to be used for a planned community event.

Part 55 Civil Procedure Rules

(Landowner Only)

  • Are used to regain possession of his/her land;
  • Application is made before the County Court (court fee is payable);
  • The Judge decides if an order for possession will be made;
  • Upon possession order being made, a warrant is issued (County court bailiffs usually used);
  • Eviction 24 hours from the time at which the notice of eviction was served;
  • Useful where the occupants of the encampment change frequently.

The timescales for this method very much depends on the Court and availability of Judges. There has to be much greater preparation in respect of Court application forms and a statement supporting the application.

The Court fee currently (payable to the Court) is £355.  A notice has to be served prior to the possession claim being made and usually staked on the land. 

Once the claim is issued, a hearing date is given and the papers have to be served on the Gypsies or Travellers.  Evidence of such service needs to be provided to the Court in the form of photos and a certificate of service.  They must be served with the papers giving them at least 2 clear days between service and the Court hearing.  The Judge can make an order or, on occasion, the hearing may be adjourned to another date to give the Gypsies or Travellers an opportunity to file a defence.

If an order is made, this also has to be served and if there is a failure to vacate the land, a warrant must be requested which costs £121. The County Court bailiffs will then attend the site and execute the warrant.

There is a certain amount of lost control with this process and Court fees have to be paid.

Sections 77-78 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

(Local Authorities Only)

  • can be used on any land within the local authority’s area, irrespective of ownership;
  • are used to remove identified individuals from land;
  • only require the involvement of the Courts when unauthorised campers do not leave when directed to do so;
  • possession is enforced by local authority officers or private bailiffs employed by the local authority;
  • the return of unauthorised campers and/or their vehicles to the location within three months carries criminal sanctions.

Again like the other 2 powers, a notice has to be served requiring the Gypsies or Travellers to vacate the land. Such applications are dependent on Court availability. There has to be much greater preparation in respect of Court application forms and a statement supporting the application.  This power should not be used where a quick removal is required.  There can be time delays due to staff resource to progress the application and Court availability.

Section 61-62 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

(Police Power)

  • can be used on any land except the highway;
  • are used to remove identified individuals and/or their vehicles from land;
  • there must be two or more persons trespassing on the land before the power can be used;
  • do not require the involvement of the Courts;
  • possession is enforced by the Police;
  • the return of unauthorised campers to the location within three months carries criminal sanctions;
  • Usually used where there is anti-social behaviour and public disorder.

Injunctions - Section 222 of the local Government Act 1972

(Local Authorities)

  • Injunctive power which prevents travellers to access, remain or be upon specific parcels of land;
  • local authority consider it expedient for the promotion or protection of the interests of the inhabitants of their area;
  • Power of arrest pursuant to Section 27 of the Police and Justice Act 2006;
  • To be used where persistent incursions, anti-social behaviour, other powers/tools have been used and failed.

Preparing such applications is time consuming as they are used for the more persistent and lengthier incursions.

A letter before action should be served prior to the application being made.  The application must set out exactly why an injunction is being applied for and supported by a witness statement from council and/or police officers and/or from Councillors and/or members of the public.  This application should be personally served on each of the occupants and external bailiffs would be instructed to undertake this, costing around £300. The current Court fee for making the application is £308.  They must be served with the papers giving them at least 2 clear days between service and the Court hearing.  The Judge can make an order or on occasion the hearing may be adjourned to another date to give the Gypsies or Travellers an opportunity to file a defence.