Unauthorised encampments

View reported encampments and injunctions

An unauthorised encampment is when an individual or group of individuals move onto a piece of land that they do not own, without the permission of the landowner.

Unauthorised encampments are a matter of civil trespass between the landowner and the individual(s) illegally camped on the land. Private land owners are expected to deal with encampment on their own land.

We are not legally obliged to remove individuals or groups who are illegally camped on our land but do try to move all individuals who have unauthorised encampments as quickly as possible.

The council must follow a specific procedure when dealing with unauthorised encampments:

  • Confirm whether the council owns the land and, if it doesn't, who does
  • Carry out welfare checks to identify if there are any welfare needs amongst individuals
  • If there are no welfare needs the council can serve a direction to leave
  • If, after the direction to leave is served and the individuals continue to remain on the land past the date given, the council will apply to the magistrates court for a possession order

It usually takes between 10 and 14 working days to complete the eviction process. This depends on the circumstances of each individual case and the time taken to obtain a court hearing.

Many of the unauthorised encampments within the borough are by groups of people who follow a nomadic way of life travelling the country, stopping off for a time and then moving on. These people are often referred to as Gypsies or Travellers. Gypsies and Travellers are protected from discrimination by the Race Relation Act 1976 and the Human Rights Act 1998, together with all groups who have a particular culture, language or values.

It is not illegal to roam and people cannot be prevented from roaming.

Landowners and Land ownership

Unauthorised encampments on land you own

Trespass is not a criminal offence, it is a civil matter and so the police don't usually have powers to deal with unauthorised encampments. There are exceptions to this, for example, when the encampment is over a certain size, or if there are other policing issues associated with the encampment. The police work very closely with the council to help manage unauthorised encampments and, when appropriate, will take action to deal with problems that may arise.

Landowner is allowing an unauthorised encampment to remain temporarily

Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission or is a farmer and the campers are helping with temporary labour, such as fruit picking, the landowner could be in breach of planning law and the laws dealing with the licensing of caravan sites.

Landowners not taking action to remove unauthorised encampments

If the landowner will not take appropriate action to remove the encampment, and there is a breach of planning or licence requirements, the local planning authority may take action against the landowner to require the removal of the caravans. Court action would likely to follow if the landowner does not comply.

Gypsies and Travellers setting up an encampment on land they have brought

Any individual who wants to live on a piece of land needs to obtain planning permission and Gypsies and Travellers are no different.

If planning permission is not granted and caravans are set up on a piece of land, even if it is privately owned, then it can be classed as an unauthorised development and the local planning authority can deal with it under normal planning powers.

Legislation and powers

Legislation used when dealing with unauthorised encampments

The main legislation that relates to unauthorised encampment is:

  • Sections 61, 62A-E, 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
  • the Human Rights Act 1998
  • the Race Relations Act 1976

This legislation is bound by case law and guidance notes from the government, which do not allow for racial discrimination or tolerate anti-social or criminal behaviour.

Legislation is set and amended by the government, and we must follow all legislation which is set and have no authority to change it.

Powers that the council can use

Section 77 (of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) allows us to require the unauthorised campers to leave, the request to leave is in the form of a direction to leave served by the council.

Before using Section 77 and serving a direction to leave, we have a legal obligation to make welfare enquiries and take these into account prior to making the decision to use the power.

All decisions made must be fair and in accordance with the Human Rights Act.

If after a direction to leave has been issued the unauthorised campers remain on the land, the council may apply to the Magistrates' Court under Section 78 (of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) for a court order requiring the unauthorised campers to leave the site.

If the unauthorised campers do not leave the site after a court order has been served we are authorised to remove the property on the site to a safe place.

Moving an unauthorised encampment immediately without using sections 77 and 78

To do this would lead to the lengthy court action, considerable cost and delay the eviction process.

Race Relations Act and the Human Rights Act

Race relations legislation recognises Gypsies and Travellers as a specific ethnic group.

With regards to human rights, we must take into account whether the interference with Gypsy/Traveller family life and home is justified and fair.

Police involvement

The Police will review all reports of unauthorised encampments and if offences under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act are identified can work in partnership with the council or land owner to resolve the situation by use of Police powers or supporting the land owner while they initiate legal repossession action of the land concerned. For more information contact Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary on 101 or via email.

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