What is an unauthorised encampment?
Unauthorised encampment is defined as " a group of people with vehicles on land without the landowner or occupier's consent with the intention of residing". Unauthorised camping is not a criminal offence. It is a civil offence (trespass), giving landowners the right to repossess their property using the due process of law.
Gypsies and Travellers are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, together with all ethnic groups who have a particular culture, language or values. We follow advice and guidance from the Government as well as fulfilling our statutory duties in relation to any action we take to deal with unauthorised encampment.
We are aware of the distress, annoyance and expense that can be caused by unauthorised encampments.
Encampment on council land
When an unauthorised encampment on land owned or occupied by the council has been reported, we visit the site to obtain details and undertake welfare checks. This visit usually takes place within one working day. The council has a borough-wide injunction preventing encampments of 10 vehicles or more from staying on council land. Following the visit, if there are more than 10 vehicles enforcement of the injunction occurs and they will depart within two to three days; if fewer than 10 vehicles a formal notice (a Direction to Leave) may be served on the encampment - it usually takes a day to draw up this notice and serve it.
The direction to leave gives the smaller encampments 24 hours to leave the site. If a group fails to move on then the next step is to obtain a court order. We will make an appointment with the magistrates’ court and a summons will be served on the group. It can be several days until the court hearing.
If the small encampment has not moved on by the court date then an order will be sought from the court. Failure to comply with the order can result in vehicles being removed. Usually an encampment will have departed before proceedings get to this point, which is normally between seven to ten days.
The matter can be complicated as the court order only applies to a specific group, if a second group joins the first group, they are not covered by the original court order and we have to start the process again.
Our officers monitor the encampment from the time that it arrives until the point it leaves. If the site will require cleaning after the group leaves and we aim to do this as quickly as possible.
Encampments on council land have to be dealt with as a civil matter. The police will only take action if serious criminal activity, public disorder or disruption to the local community takes place.
Encampment on privately owned land
Where an encampment occurs on privately owned land and is unauthorised then it is normally the responsibility of the landowner to pursue enforcement action.
There are a number of measures landowners can take to prevent unauthorised encampments and to make land less inviting (including ditching, fencing, obstacles, etc). However planning regulations and environmental issues must be considered before implementing these measures, which must affect only the land owned, and not that of neighbours or the highway.
If a private landowner decides to tolerate or permit an encampment then they should first seek advice to ensure they do not contravene planning or other legislation.
Encampment on the highway
Where an encampment occurs on the highway (the road, lay-by's, verges, the pavement) this becomes the responsibility of the highway authority, in this area this is Surrey County Council. They will follow the same procedures as us, above.
Removal of waste
Local authorities are under an obligation to remove fly tipped waste from public land. The injunction obtained prevents any encampment from fly tipping, whatever the size of the encampment. Hence if there is fly tipping the injunction will be relied upon. On private land it is the responsibility of the landowner to remove the waste and dispose of it legally. This can involve engaging private contractors and can be expensive. We can advise what options are available locally but we are also obliged in certain circumstances to use powers to require landowners to remove waste.