Everyone has rights, including Gypsies, travellers and the people on whose land unauthorised camping takes place.
Gypsies and Travellers are protected from discrimination by the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Human Rights Act 1998. All ethnic groups who have a particular culture, language or values are protected and this includes Gypsies and travellers.
Courses of Action
In the past, local businesses have occasionally been confused about how to deal with unofficial encampments on their property. The guidance below has been produced to help overcome any difficulties this may cause. Owners may need the land and wish the encampment to move on. This is sometimes done by agreement; at other times the owner will use the legal system to obtain their land back. People often turn to the Council for advice, for example, companies may want to know what action they can take if land providing access to business, car parking or adjacent land is taken over by travellers.
If the land is privately owned, the owners are responsible for ending the occupation of the land and not the local authority. However, tenants of land may sometimes be responsible for taking action, especially if they have sole use of the property. Owners and tenants therefore need to check the terms of the lease. Guidance on the following procedures is available from the local authority’s Gypsy Liaison Service. Telephone 01274 434405 or e mail email@example.com
Many travellers are fully aware of their rights but know that legal action may be taken to move them on. The process can take up to ten days. First of all, it is often best to speak with those occupying the land, to discover how long they plan to stay. You may wish to be accompanied by at least one other colleague/member of staff when you do this. The traveller’s answer may help you to decide how to proceed.
What can the council do to help?
Gypsy Liaison Officers visit all gypsy sites and will advise companies and individuals on how to handle the situation. Occasionally, they may be able to find space for travellers on the local authority’s permanent sites. But space is limited and some travellers only want to stay in the area for a short time. The Council can only apply for a court order if it owns the land. They also provide advice on preventative measures; so let them know about the problem. The council's Gypsy Liaison Service may be contacted on 01274 434405
What is the role of the Police?
Police officers usually only become involved when the encampment is on the side of the road. Occupying private or Council land is not a criminal offence. If you want to obtain possession of your land, Police advice is to take legal action as discussed in Option 1 below.
Courses of action
This is the course of action where the owner or tenant of the land applies to the County Court to serve an order on the Gypsies or travellers to leave the site by a given date. The process will take around 10 days and there will be a charges for the service of papers, legal and court fees. As long as the court order states that those occupying the land at that time and ‘any others present’ should move on, then this will be OK, i.e. the order should not just name several individuals.
The owner or tenant can adopt a process known as “self help”. This is not recommended and should only be considered where there are small numbers of caravans i.e. less than six. If, after speaking to those occupying the land, they refuse to leave the site, their vehicles can be moved off the land by yourself. Towing trucks can be used to carefully remove the caravans. If you consider taking such action, the Police should be notified and asked to attend to prevent the possibility of a breach of peace. Be aware that you may be held liable for any damage caused to the vehicles or their contents.
If your site has been occupied once, it could happen again. Evidence shows that travellers are more likely to move/occupy land at night or at weekends. If you don’t want this to happen you can:
- Use fencing, height barriers, bollards and gates to restrict access
- Always repair or replace damaged or stolen padlocks and gates, etc.
- Encourage staff and neighbours to report attempts to gain access
Dos and Don’ts
- If you want help, contact Gypsy Liaison Officers
- Determine who is responsible for occupied land, checking the leasing agreement where appropriate
- Consider future security of land once it is vacated
- Check security of property regularly, looking for locks and chains that may have been tampered with
- Clear any rubbish to discourage fly-tipping.
- Never make an offer of payment as an inducement to leave
- If you provide skips, water or sanitation it may make any further action to obtain the land more difficult
- Do not make threats of intended legal action unless you are prepared to execute them.