Oakhill

'Travellers' guidelines

Following issues experienced by neighbouring councils last spring and summer, the Parish Council has sought advice on the procedures to follow in the event Travellers are seen camped in the area:-

1.  When travellers are reported or seen in the area, it needs to be ascertained if they are seasonal visitors such as the group that stay at the top crossroads and do wood carving each year around the time of the Glastonbury festival. These type of groups generally do not break the law as such, are responsible for the camp area and then move on after the festival, and therefore, do not really constitute a problem for the parish

2.  Travellers that have been moved on or evicted from other sites are a problem for Ashwick parish and surrounding areas, and once reported, the following will need to be ascertained:

  • Are the travellers on private land,
  • On Parish land – such as the recreation ground or car park
  • On Mendip or Somerset land or highways

3.   Initial steps to be taken include:

  • reporting the travellers to the relevant landowner
  • securing the site if possible, to deter any additional travellers
  • advising the parish councillors of the situation

Travellers on Mendip, Somerset or Parish Land

Councils cannot remove unauthorised encampments from its own land immediately.  The council must act according to national legislation and guidelines by:

•    Showing that the Gypsies/Travellers are on the land without consent.
•    Making enquiries regarding the general health, welfare and children's education. 
•    Ensuring that the Human Rights Acts 1998 has been fully complied with. 
•    Following a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the illegal encampment that will enable them to successfully obtain the necessary authority from the Courts to order the Gypsies/Travellers to leave the site.

How long does this take?
Will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The council will need to take account of the issues outlined above as well as how soon they can obtain a court hearing date. Generally it will take at least a week.

Can the court refuse to grant the council an order to move Gypsies/Travellers on?
Yes. If it considers there is an unavoidable reason for the Gypsies/Travellers to stay on the site, or if the court believes that the council have failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the Gypsies/Travellers. The council must try to find out this information before going to court.

Travellers on Private Land - Advice for Landowners

Do councils have a duty to move Gypsies/Travellers when they are camped without the landowner's permission?
No. If Gypsies/Travellers are camped on council land, the council may choose to evict them. If the encampment is on private land, there may be planning implications but the landowner's have the initial responsibility to deal with the Gypsies and travellers.

What do I do if Gypsies/Travellers come to my land?
The first thing to do is to talk to the Gypsies/Travellers to make it clear that this is actually your land. Ask why they are there, and how long they are hoping to stay.  Assess if they are causing a disturbance.  If the encampment has spread onto a Right of Way or Highway contact the local council.  Seek legal advice.

What if the Gypsies/Travellers won't talk to me?
Seek advice from your solicitor.

If there aren't any problems, is it ok to let them stay?
Some landowners are happy to let small groups stay where good relations are established early and there are no major problems.  Long-term occupation will require planning permission from the Council.

What if I need to reclaim possession of my land?
Your solicitor will most likely advise that possession be sought in the Civil Courts under Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules. This will involve:

•    Asking trespassers to leave (landowners responsibility) 
•    Issuing and serving a court summons (landowners responsibility)
•    Seeking a possession order in court (landowners responsibility)
•    Serving the possession order, and, if necessary (landowners responsibility)
•    Executing a warrant for possession with County Court Bailiffs (landowners responsibility)

Usually, once an order is served, Gypsies/Travellers will vacate independently.  You can engage private bailiffs to remove unauthorised occupiers without a possession order in some cases, but you should take legal advice before pursuing this course of action.

What will this cost me as a land owner?
Your solicitor will charge their own fees, disposing of rubbish and clearing up will be at your own cost.

What can the Police do?
Trespass is a civil matter and not a criminal offence.  Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibilities of the landowner and not the Police.

Police also have discretionary powers to direct Gypsies/Travellers off land where activity contravenes legislation contained within Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.  Specific criteria have to be met and includes, for example, where the Gypsies/Travellers have with them six or more vehicles or damage has occurred.  The use of this power will only be considered in situations of more serious criminality or where the encampment is on a very sensitive site which is likely to cause significant disruption to the local community.  An example of a sensitive site could be a school playing field or maybe a recreation ground.

If the landowner fails to take the appropriate action to remove the Gypsies/Travellers, what will the council do?
If the landowner is in breach of any planning or license requirements, then the council may choose to take proceedings against the landowner that require removal of the unauthorised encampment.