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Unauthorised Traveller site enforcement protocol

Our aim is to ensure that all residents, whether living in settled or travelling communities, are treated lawfully, equally and with respect. We recognise the need for a balance between the rights of Gypsies and Travellers, the rights of the general public to enjoy private and public land and the rights of landowners.

The following explains how we (through our Corporate Traveller Services Unit (CTSU)) and other agencies will work to try and balance the rights of all those involved where unauthorised encampments happen. You can also view a flowchart of the process.

Does the council have a legal duty to remove Travellers who are camping on council owned land without permission?

No. The enforcement powers given to councils are discretionary only (which means there is a ‘power’ but not a ‘duty’ to remove Travellers) These powers can only be used where certain conditions exist and only following the due legal process.

What does the council do when it receives a complaint about an encampment?

On being notified of an unauthorised encampment, the CTSU establishes the location of the site and will visit it as soon as possible, usually the same day or within one working day of its arrival.

The CTSU will determine whether the land is local authority or privately owned (Parish/Town Councils are considered to be private landowners) and assess nearby hazards, the number of individuals, the number of vehicles, the general behaviour of the group and it’s intentions.

If the encampment is occupying council owned land, these observations will inform future negotiations and the most appropriate method for its lawful removal. At the same time, to promote a clean site whilst it is occupied, advice is given about waste and fly tipping and sufficient bags supplied for domestic waste in order to reduce the eventual clean-up.

Can the council take immediate steps to remove an encampment from its own land?

No. We cannot remove anyone without obtaining the necessary court order authorising us to do so.

When will the council take enforcement action?

Where negotiation isn’t successful and we are considering enforcement action to remove an encampment, we have a legal duty to carry out welfare assessments of families and individuals to identify any duties in relation to health, education and housing.

Assuming there are no welfare concerns, we will issue a written direction to leave under Section 77 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994, usually allowing up to 48 hours for compliance. If the direction is ignored and the encampment fails to leave by the date and time specified or returns to that location within three months of the direction, an offence is committed which, on conviction, carries a prison term not exceeding three months or a fine of up to £2,500.

However, the practical remedy is to obtain a Section 78 removal order from the magistrates court. The timing of this is entirely dependent upon the court and it may mean an encampment remaining where it is and being ‘managed’ for several more days until a Section 78 application can be heard by the court.

Where the court makes a Section 78 order, it is usually enforceable immediately although the court has discretion to delay its enforcement temporarily if there is a case to do so. Orders are executed by bailiffs with the support of the police although execution of an order may delayed by the council until sufficient local resources can be mobilised to do so safely and peacefully.

How do you keep the public informed about progress?

An unauthorised site will be visited daily by the CTSU until its removal (whether voluntarily or via the bailiff). An initial notification of a newly arrived encampment will be given to the local MP, local members, the clerk to the local town or parish council, the council’s corporate contact centre, press officer and the police.  Thereafter, information about the status of the site will be updated daily on the ‘Unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller encampments’ web page.

How long will it take for an encampment to be removed?

Each new encampment is considered entirely on its merits but generally speaking, anywhere between 48 hours and three weeks.

What happens when the encampment has gone?

When the land has been recovered or vacated, it will be assessed, cleaned (and if necessary secured) by our streetcare team.

When can the police remove an encampment?

The police have ‘discretionary’ powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (the Act) to ‘direct’ an encampment to leave without reference to the courts.
The police are able to use these powers where they are satisfied that two or more people are trespassing on the land and where the landowner has taken reasonable steps to compel them to leave (and they have failed to do so). In addition, one of the following must apply;

  • damage has been caused to the land or property, or
  • threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour has been used against the occupier, his family or agent, or
  • the trespassers have six or more vehicles on the land

If a Section 61 direction is ignored, a police officer may seize, remove and impound the vehicles under Section 62 of the Act, levying a fee for their return.  The presence of an encampment alone, although unwanted, with no aggravating factors will not trigger police action to remove it. We will always liaise closely with the police and will ask for their assistance where we deem it to be necessary.

What can I do, as a private landowner, if an encampment appears on my land without my permission?

First, talk to people on your land to try and agree a leaving date. If an agreement is not met and you are not willing to tolerate the encampment, you or your solicitor may go to the nearest county court and obtain an order granting you possession of your land. Further details can be obtained from the county court.

What happens if a private landowner uses their land for an encampment without planning permission?

Where any landowner uses land for purposes for which they do not have planning permission, the Local Planning Authority will investigate and consider whether enforcement action is appropriate. Gypsies and Travellers should undertake pre-application discussions with the council (acting as the Local Planning Authority) in advance of occupying any land they propose to use as a permanent site.

Who do I inform or complain to about an unauthorised encampment on public land?

Our Corporate Contact Centre is the first point of contact for complaints about unauthorised encampments. Where the matter occurs outside of business hours, such incidents can be reported to the Traveller Unit using the contact form on this page.

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