Unauthorised Encampments Frequently Asked Questions

We respect the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller way of life.

The council is responsible for dealing with unauthorised Gypsy, Roma and Traveller camps on land owned by the council.

The Traveller community can experience some difficulties finding an authorised place to stop and may set up an encampment on land without consent, including highway verges and lay-bys. This is a breach of civil law and, in certain circumstances, may be a breach of criminal law. Such encampments can also give rise to complaints from local residents and businesses about various issues.

Residents sometimes ask why the council and the police do not evict Gypsies and other Travellers as soon as they arrive on a public open space or on other land.

Here are some frequently asked questions that we hope will explain why.

Who are Gypsies and Travellers?

Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are defined as minority ethnic groups under the Race Relations Act (1976). There are a number of Gypsy and Traveller communities, each have different histories and traditions such as:

  • Gypsies are Romany ethnic groups who have lived in Britain for around 600 years. Their ancestors originate from northern India.
  • Irish Travellers are a nomadic group with a distinctive way of life who have been part of Irish and British society since ancient times.
  • New Travellers are people of settled background who adopted a travelling lifestyle in the more recent past, although some are now in their third or fourth generation of travelling.

What rights do people have?

Everyone has rights, including the Travellers, the local community and the people who own the land where the unauthorised encampment is located.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have been travelling the country and staying in different areas to make a living as their way of life for many generations.

They are protected from discrimination under the Equalities Act 2010, by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1998 and have the right to live free from harassment and discrimination. 

The decision to adopt a travelling lifestyle where housing need is met through living within a vehicle either on a long or short-term basis is made by a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons. It is therefore important that Gypsies and Travellers are not denied the right to mainstream services that the council provides.

What are Gypsies and Travellers’ experiences of discrimination, disadvantage and harassment?

Gypsies and Travellers experience severe and continued discrimination in education, health, employment and the criminal justice system despite a number of legal protections.

In 2016 The Equalities and Human Rights Commission undertook the largest ever review into race inequality in Britain and found that Gypsies and Travellers are by far the most discriminated ethnic group. ( EHRC Aug 2016 Healing a divided Britain)

Why do Gypsies and Travellers set up sites without permission?

The lack of site provision and the barriers they encounter in trying to set up their own have left many Gypsies and Travellers without the basic right to accommodation.

Gypsies and Travellers who are effectively ‘homeless’, due to not having a pitch on a site to park their trailers on, have no choice but to pull up on land that may not always be appropriate. People also set up temporary camps for other reasons such as having to access medical or welfare services, repairing vehicles, or just resting whilst on the road to the next place. Usually, family groups stay for a few days then move on.

If they camp on other people’s land, private owners, local authorities and the police have a range of different powers to move them on.

Do Gypsies think laws don’t apply to them?

Like all people, a small number of the community engage in anti-social or criminal behaviour. The majority of Gypsies and Travellers are law-abiding citizens who want criminal behaviour dealt with by the law. The media often perpetuates the myth of all Gypsies and Travellers being blameworthy and fails to report on the many positive contributions made by Gypsies and Travellers.

Can the council remove the encampment from their land immediately?

No.

The council must:

  • make enquiries regarding the Travellers’ general health, welfare and children's education
  • issue a Code of Conduct
  • assess the impact of the encampment on its location and local neighbourhood
  • ensure that the Human Rights Act 1998 has been fully complied with
  • follow a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the unauthorised encampment
  • consider toleration as well as eviction as part of a protocol with joint agencies

If the Travellers are found to be camped illegally on council land then the council may make an application to the Magistrates Court for an Eviction Order or to County Court for a Possession Order.

How long will it take for an eviction to happen?

This depends on the circumstances of each individual case. The council needs to take into account the issues referred to above, as well as how long it takes to obtain a court hearing.

In some instances the council, working with the police may accept an encampment for up to two weeks if high standards are maintained on site and the legitimate use of the site by others is not affected.

If you are concerned about any mess in the meantime please report it online here.

Can the court refuse to grant the council an order to move the Travellers on?

Yes, if it believes that:

  • the council has failed to make adequate enquiries about the health, welfare and education of the campers, or
  • if there is an unavoidable reason for the Travellers to remain on site (for example vehicle failure or health concerns)

The council must show that it has taken all reasonable steps to find out this information before going to court.

What can the police do?

The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and to prevent and detect crime. Trespass on land is not itself a criminal offence and prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner and not the police.

The police will investigate any reports of crime and public disorder and each encampment is dealt with on a case by case basis.

There are occasions when new police powers can be used to speed up the move on of an encampment but these require a full risk assessment to be carried out (on the encampment) and for the risk to be considered ‘significant’. This assessment is carried out alongside the council utilising the Joint Operating Protocol, and taking account of the published national guidance from the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC).

The factual circumstances of each case will determine whether a ‘significant’ level of damage, disruption or distress has been caused or is likely to be caused and this will be for police and courts to assess. There is NO automatic expectation that the police will use the new powers and a decision to use them may not be immediate.

The police are required to keep the decision around using their powers under review during the any eviction process.

Why can’t powers be used if there is criminal damage for entry?

On attendance at the site police will seek to identify any criminal offences such as criminal damage to cause entry. An investigation should be commenced into any criminal damage caused and attempts made to identify the person(s) responsible. Should a person be identified then this should be dealt with in accordance with normal processes of managing offenders. This would not normally give grounds for immediate eviction.

What can the landowner do if the if the encampment is on private land?

It is the landowner's responsibility to take the necessary action to evict the encampment.

The landowner can attempt to agree a leaving date with the Travellers or take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedures Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for their eviction as trespassers.

What can the council do if an eviction order for public land is not complied with?

If the eviction order is not complied with then the council can remove the caravans and other vehicles from the borough, although most Travellers do leave peacefully.

What should the settled community do when an encampment arrives?

It is fully recognised that the arrival of an encampment may lead to some unrest and concern.

Local residents are encouraged to show tolerance to any Travellers and their way of life whilst local agencies are taking action.  Voicing your opposition or challenging them directly can sometimes lead to confrontation.

As a rule, the Travellers intentions are usually to stay for short periods of time and therefore they will use local shops and amenities.

Social media should not be used to make assumptions, allegations or spread rumours and people should continue to follow usual routines if they have concerns or issues arise.

Any witnesses to criminality or anti-social behaviour MUST report to the police on 101 (999 in emergency) or Staffordshire Police webchat here so that a full record can be made and matters will be investigated.

Council staff and police will visit illegal encampment sites regularly to pick up any issues but if you have any further concerns please contact us via www.tamworth.gov.uk or 01827 709709.

Whilst in the community the Travellers may make cold calls for building or garden maintenance.  If you do pay for such work, please make sure that anyone employed has relevant employer liability, a valid waste carriers licence and can give you a transfer notice for any rubbish taken away.

Why is there a mess left by some Travellers?

The Code of Conduct seeks to advise Travellers that they should use local amenities and disposal sites for rubbish.  The council will provide a tuff tank and bin bags to try to manage this.

Traveller tradition does not allow the use of toilets in their living space and as such where there are no stopping places or public amenities close by, sometimes the surrounding areas are used.

The council undertake deep clean of all areas once an encampment has moved on.  If you feel we have missed something please report it here.

What are the council doing to protect open spaces?

An audit of all public open space is continuing and access defences are being enhanced where identified and practical, but also making sure that local people and council can continue to access the areas for leisure and ongoing maintenance.

Please note that it would be impossible to make all areas 100% secure.

Can the council provide a transit site?

At this time there is no identified site in Tamworth, however the feasibility to explore this option with surrounding councils and police is ongoing