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.
The council must follow a specific procedure when dealing with unauthorised encampments:
- The process starts with confirming whether the council owns the land and, if it doesn't, who does
- Once the landownership is confirmed, welfare checks are carried out, 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 will depend 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. When an individual or group of individuals move onto a piece of property without first gaining the permission of the landowner, this becomes a matter of civil trespass between the landowner and the individual(s) illegally camped on the land. It is the responsibility of the landowner to deal with the encampment. We are not legal 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.
To find out what unauthorised encampments the council is aware of please visit our 'Known unauthorised encampments' page. If the unauthorised encampment is not listed please report it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephoning 01256 844844.
Frequently asked questions
- What if the landowner is content to allow 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.
- What if the landowner will not take action to remove the unauthorised encampment?
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.
- What can I do if I own land and I do not want an unauthorised encampment on it?
Trespass on land is a civil matter and prevention of trespass is the responsibility of the landowner. If you don't want encampments, you should consider whether any physical steps could be taken to prevent access to your land.
- What about Gypsies and Travellers who buy their own land and set up an encampment on it?
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
- What legislation can be 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.
- What are the 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.
- Can the council move 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
- Why does the council have to take into account the Race Relations Act and the Human Rights Act when dealing with Gypsies and Travellers?
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.
- When can the police take the lead role in evicting the unauthorised encampment?
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.