Advice for Gypsies and Travellers

 

Does Chichester District Council provide authorised transit accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers to stay on?

A new short stay transit site for travellers, which has been designed to manage and reduce unauthorised encampments in West Sussex, was officially opened on Monday 16 March 2015.

The new transit site, which is part of a partnership agreement with councils across West Sussex and Sussex Police, is located on Stane Street in Chichester.

Nine short stay pitches, with toilet and shower facilities, have been built, along with an office for the manager of the site and the site will be managed by West Sussex County Council.

What happens if I set up an unauthorised encampment?

If you set up an unauthorised encampment, the people you are likely to encounter will depend on the type of land you are on.

If you are on privately owned land then it could be the landowner who first visits you, however, if the landowner reports trespass to the Police, it might be the Police you first meet.

If the landowner is Chichester District Council, a council officer will visit you. Chichester District Council does not currently employ a Traveller Liaison Officer. However, West Sussex County Council does have a Liaison Officer who can be contacted for further information.

You will be asked questions about your situation, your health and welfare, and if you need any other support. Unless anyone in your group has specific needs, Chichester District Council may take legal action.

If the landowner is West Sussex County Council, or your camp is on a Right of Way or a Highway, an officer or agent representing the County Council will visit you.

What legal action might be taken if I set up an unauthorised encampment?

Legal action will most likely result in a civil court order for possession, which will be posted at the site and enforcement will follow. If private landowners act under Common Law Powers (using their common law rights to recover land) eviction of those engaged in trespass can be quickly undertaken (bailiffs can be present within hours). The landowners may conduct proceeding under Part 55 Civil Procedures Rules, which offers a relatively quick avenue to deal with unauthorised camping through the civil courts enabling the landowner to regain possession of his/her land.

Local Authorities have the power under Section 77 of the Criminal justice and Public Order Act 1994 to direct unauthorised campers to leave any land within the local authority's area. Should they fail to comply with this direction, local authorities can under Section 78 of the Act, go to court and seek an order from the local justices, which allows the removal of campers, you will normally be allowed to be heard in either of these proceedings.

Local Authorities can also regain possession of land by pursuing a claim for possession through the County Courts under Part 55 as above, Court bailiffs will then be used to remove trespassers from the land once a possession order has been granted.

Whilst trespass is a civil matter, if the group's behaviour offends against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, or if there is evidence of criminal activity, Sussex Police can take action.

Under Section 61 of the 1994 Act the police have the power to direct trespassers to leave the land. Furthermore, under Section 62 A-E of the Act they can direct trespassers to leave land where there is suitable pitch availability.

Local Authority Sites - West Sussex County Council

Currently the district of Chichester has two local authority sites administered by West Sussex County Council, these are located in Cemetery Lane, Westbourne and Marsh Lane, Easthampnett.

You can apply to go on the waiting list for these sites. However, there is a low turnover of pitch availability, and usually a long waiting time for those seeking accommodation on these sites.

For current site availability please contact West Sussex County Council.

Private sites

You can seek guidance from Chichester District Council's Development and Building Control Services.

You can also call for advice:

  • the Community Law Partnership on Tel. 01216 858 677;
  • the Royal Planning Institute on Tel. 020 76369107; or,
  • Planning Aid on Tel. 0870 8509801.

Housing advice

For free advice contact Chichester District Council Housing Advice Team.

Advice for landowners

Does the council 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.

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, you should contact West Sussex County Council. It is a good idea to inform your solicitor of the situation and to ask about likely legal costs.

What if the Gypsies/Travellers won't talk to me?

Most Gypsy and Traveller families welcome the opportunity to speak to other members of the community. Bear in mind though Travellers can be suspicious of people from outside their community and may be cautious at first about talking openly. If you feel negotiations are not going well, leave the discussion for the time being and 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. Some welcome the contribution Gypsy and Traveller culture makes to trade and community life - even if just for a short time. Long-term occupation will require planning permission from Chichester District 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
  • Seeking a possession order in court
  • Serving the possession order, and, if necessary
  • Executing a warrant for possession with County Court Bailiffs

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.

Please note that when proceedings are undertaken in the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for eviction, there should usually be a minimum of two clear days between service of documents and the Court hearing.

What will this cost me?

Your solicitor will charge their own fees, so check costs first. Disposing of rubbish will be at your own cost but District Services may be able to offer you a quote for the work if you prefer.  For further information please contact 01243 - 534619.

What can the Police do?

The Police will visit all sites reported to them but 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.

Sussex Police carefully assess each incident of unauthorised camping and, under Department for Communities and Local Government and Home Office guidelines, act proportionately.

The Police have powers to move Gypsies/Travellers off land where criminal activity by Gypsies/Travellers can be established - just as crime committed by settled people has to be proven.

Police also have discretionary powers to direct Travellers off land where group behaviour is contravening to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. In certain circumstances (for example, where the Gypsies/Travellers have with them six or more vehicles and damage has occurred), officers may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers will usually only be used in situations of more serious criminality or where there is the risk of public disorder not capable of being addressed by other criminal legislation and in which the trespassory occupation of the land is a relevant factor.

The Police are obliged to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act, which constrains the use of Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in circumstances where it would preclude welfare considerations from being taken account of by the civil courts.

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.

Advice for residents

What happens when Gypsies and Travellers visit the area?

Gypsies and Travellers will visit the area for a number of reasons, which include economic (looking for employment or continuing with existing contracts), seasonal holiday travel, and to visit relatives.

Most of the time, Gypsies and Travellers like to keep themselves to themselves. In some situations (such as a wedding or a funeral, if a relative is in hospital, or if they have broken down), they may stop closer to residential areas.

The council receives information quickly from a number of sources when Gypsies and Travellers are in the area. Working with Sussex Police, other agencies and the Gypsies/Travellers themselves, the council seeks to minimize disruption to residents during such a visit.

Where cases of unauthorised camping are identified, each case is taken on its own merit following Department for Communities and Local Government guidelines.

I have seen Gypsies/Travellers camping on the side of the road and sometimes on parks or other council-owned land, what can the council do in these cases?

Chichester District Council will consider each case individually. In all cases the site is visited and every effort made to make sure that the Gypsies/Travellers keep the site clean and tidy.

Chichester District Council 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.

What should I do if I suspect that an encampment is unauthorised?

Contact the District Council. The District Council can only take enforcement action when an unauthorised encampment is on District Council-owned land but we will notify other landlords and advise them on their rights and responsibilities where necessary.

How long will it take for the Gypsies/Travellers to be removed?

This 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.

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.

What can the Police do?

The Police will visit all sites reported to them but 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.

Sussex Police carefully assess each incident of unauthorised camping and, under Department for Communities and Local Government and Home Office guidelines; act with regard and in proportion to the circumstances surrounding individual encampments.

The Police have powers to move Gypsies/Travellers off land where criminal activity by Gypsies/Travellers can be established. However, crime has to be proven in the same way, as that committed by settled people has to be proven. Police also have discretionary powers to direct Travellers off land where group behaviour offends against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

In certain circumstances (for example, where the Gypsies/Travellers have with them six or more vehicles and damage has occurred), officers may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers will usually only be used in situations of more serious criminality or where there is the risk of public disorder not capable of being addressed by other criminal legislation and in which the trespassory occupation of the land is a relevant factor.

The Police are obliged to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act, which constrains the use of Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in circumstances where it would preclude welfare considerations from being taken account of by the civil courts.

Gypsy and Travellers Transit Site - Westhampnett