The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has recently set out his vision for simplifying the process for removal of illegal traveller encampments. The proposed changes focus on consulting on the creation of a criminal offence in respect of setting up an unauthorised traveller camp, alongside providing additional funding to local authorities.
The consultation undertaken by the Government uncovered a number of deficiencies with the current system. Presently, such camps are defined in law as trespass, which is a civil matter. The options available to landowners are twofold:
1. Apply to the County Court for a possession order. Once such an order has been obtained, the proceedings are transferred to the High Court for enforcement. This is an effective process, albeit can be time consuming, given the current backlog of cases that the Courts are dealing with. The advantage of obtaining an order is that if the travellers return within 12 months, the landowner can return to Court to enforce the terms of the same order, without needing to start a new claim; or
2. Effect eviction via common law, under s.61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This involves the giving of notice to trespassers (usually 24 hours) and if they fail to vacate the premises, using no more than reasonable force to remove them. This process requires the instruction of trained enforcement officers and unlike obtaining an order for possession, if the travellers return after 3 months, the landowner must begin the procedure from scratch. The process cannot be used unless damage has been caused to the land, threatening behaviour has been exhibited and/or there are more than 6 vehicles present. In addition, the process is not available to local authorities and is often ineffective when encampments are large, due to logistical difficulties.
Under the proposed regime, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government will provide up to £1.5m of extra funding to local authorities, to assist with the enforcement of planning rules. Funding will be made available under the £9bn Affordable Homes Programme to help pay for legal pitches and £200,000 will be given to support projects working with traveller communities.
The Home Office will also consult on proposed amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to:
• Lower the number of vehicles needed to be involved in an illegal camp before police can act from 6 to 2;
• Give the police powers to direct travellers to sites in neighbouring local authorities (rather than sites in the same area only);
• Allow officers to remove trespassers from camping on or beside a road; and
• Increase the time - from 3 months to a year - during which travellers are not allowed to return to a site they have already been removed from.
The current legislative framework does not work for travellers or landowners. Hopefully, this two pronged approach will improve protection for both landowners and travellers alike.
We would be happy to advise you further on any of the above, or any other queries you may have relating to property dispute matters. If you have any questions, please contact Rebecca Noble on 0345 901 0918 or Mark Egner on 0345 901 0916.