The council is responsible for dealing with unauthorised camps on land owned by the council.
Traveller communities can experience some difficulty finding an authorised place to stop and may set up camp on someone's land without consent, including highway verges and lay-bys.
This is a breach of civil law and, in certain circumstances, may be a breach of criminal law. The council's approach is based on the need to uphold the law and prevent unlawful occupation of land.
Such encampments can also give rise to complaints from local residents and businesses about various issues.
Residents sometimes ask why the council and police do not evict Roma and other traveller groups as soon as they arrive on a public open space or on other land.
Here are some frequently asked questions that we hope will explain why.
Everyone has rights, including the travellers, the local community and the people who own the land where the unauthorised encampment is located.
Roma groups and travellers, as with all other ethnic groups who have a particular culture, language or values, are protected from discrimination by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1998,
The decision to adopt a travelling lifestyle where housing need is met through living in a vehicle either on a long or short-term basis is made by a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons. It is therefore important that Roma people and travellers are not denied the right to mainstream services that the council provides.
Our power to clear encampments
Before the council can move an encampment from private land, the authority must:
- Show that the Roma or travellers are on the land without consent
- Have regard to the general health and welfare of the group and the children's education
- Ensure that the Human Rights Act 1998 has been fully complied with
- Follow a set procedure that is based on Government guidance, which includes proving ownership of the land, carrying out assessments for the health, welfare and education criteria, and assessing the impact of the encampment on its location and local neighbourhood.
Once these have been carried out the council may use this information for the service of notices and summonses to apply for a court order to enable the council to evict the encampment from the site.
If the travellers are found to be camped illegally on council land, the council may make an application to the Magistrates’ Court for an eviction order or to County Court for a possession order.
This will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. The council needs to take into account the issues referred to above, as well as how long it takes to obtain a court hearing.
The courts may refuse to grant the council an order to move the travellers on if it believes that:
- The council has failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the health, welfare and education of the campers
- Or if there is an unavoidable reason for the travellers to remain on site
- The council must show that it has taken all reasonable steps to find out this information before going to court.
The police under certain circumstances can use powers under Sections 61 and 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It is for the police to decide if these powers are to be used. Generally speaking, these powers are only invoked where there are situations of criminality or public disorder.
The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent and detect crime.
Trespass on land is not itself a criminal offence. The police will investigate any reports of crime and pubic disorder.
Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner and not the police.
It is the landowner's responsibility to take the necessary action to evict the encampment.
The landowner can attempt to agree a leaving date with the travellers or take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedures Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for their eviction as trespassers.
Failure to act
The landowner may be in breach of planning legislation and the Caravan Sites Act 1960 unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission for a caravan site.
If there is no planning permission, the council may take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the illegally parked caravans.
If the eviction order is not complied with then the council can remove the caravans and other vehicles from the borough.