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

Gypsies, travellers and the law

Occasionally, gypsies/travellers set up camp in the district without permission from the landowner.  

The aim of this information is to set out how the council and other official agencies will work to try to balance the rights of all those involved.

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, we work closely with our partners to evict them. There is a set process that we have to follow, which is explained in more detail in the next question.

If they are on private land, it is usually the landowner's responsibility. The Government has advised that when Gypsies/Travellers are not causing a problem, the site may be tolerated.

Can the council remove gypsies / travellers from their land immediately?

No. Along with our partners, we have to follow a number of procedures before they can be evicted from the site. Below outlines each step that we have to take.

  1. When we are made aware of a traveller incursion we inform West Sussex County Council Traveller Liaison Team (who work on our behalf) and Sussex Police.
  2. West Sussex County Council staff and the police will make an assessment of the site and any welfare issues.
  3. The police will decide whether the criteria for 'use of powers' is met and they will direct the gypsies/travellers to move to the transit site if there are spaces available.
  4. West Sussex County Council will also serve a notice for the gypsies/travellers to leave the area.
  5. Once the notice is served, the gypsies/travellers have 24 hours to vacate the site.
  6. If the gypsies/travellers have not moved by this point, then West Sussex County Council will apply to the county court for an eviction hearing.
  7. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there is a backlog of cases to be heard at the county court and so it is taking longer to gain eviction orders.
  8. Regular visits are made by all agencies while we wait for an eviction order. Our staff will supply rubbish bags and encourage the gypsies/travellers to keep the area clean and tidy. Any identified welfare concerns will also be monitored.
  9. Once the court order is obtained, the group must leave the area if they haven't already.
  10. Any anti-social behaviour should be reported to  sussex police . You can also inform the council's Communities Team on 01243 534801, or by email at: community@chichester.gov.uk In an emergency, please call 999. Please be clear in your report about the date, time and location of the incident and any impact this has had on you. This will assist the police in assessing whether they should use their powers to move the gypsies/travellers on from the site.

How long will it take for the gypsies/travellers to be removed?

This will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The council and its partners will need to take account of the issues outlined above as well as how soon they can obtain a court hearing date. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there is a backlog of cases to be heard at the county court and so it is taking longer to gain eviction orders.

Why can't you make your sites more secure?

As things stand, many of our sites have bollards, fencing and barriers around them. However, we also need to retain access points so that we can carry out maintenance using our own vehicles and mowing machinery and enable the delivery of services. Other organisations also often need to use these access points as well. Unfortunately, it is often these points that are targeted. We also have spaces that require public access, such as car parks. Along with our partners at Sussex Police and West Sussex County Council, we regularly consider what further measures we can take to make our sites more secure and review our processes.

When gypsies/travellers camp in council owned car parks, do they have to pay for parking and are they subject to parking enforcement?

Yes. When gypsies/travellers set up in one of our car parks they are reminded that they need to pay for parking and that parking enforcement is in force.

You introduced a short stay transit site to try and improve the situation. Why are we still seeing illegal encampments?

There is no doubt that the short stay transit site for gypsies/travellers has had a big impact in reducing the number of illegal encampments. However, there are times when it is full, or when it can't accommodate the size of the group that is travelling. A transit site helps deal with unauthorised encampments as it provides an appropriate stopping site for the gypsy and traveller community travelling through the county. It reduces disruption to local communities; and,it provides the police with greater powers to take action. The site has nine short-stay pitches and it is managed by West Sussex County Council.

If gypsies/travellers camp on private land, what can the landowner do?

  1. Talk to them to see if a leaving date can be agreed.
  2. Take proceedings in the county court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for their eviction. There must be a minimum of two clear days between service of documents and the court hearing.

What if the landowner decides to let them stay on the land temporarily?

Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission for a caravan site or is a farmer and the gypsies/travellers are helping with fruit picking etc., then the landowner could be in breach of the planning acts and rules dealing with the licensing of caravan sites.

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 licence requirements, then the council will take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the illegal encampment.

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?

If the gypsies/travellers are causing problems, they will be moved on as soon as is possible and reasonable. Local agencies will consider each case on its merits. In all cases the site is visited and every effort is made to make sure that the gypsies/travellers keep the site tidy and do not cause public health problems. This sometimes means that refuse collection facilities may be provided for this purpose.

Do gypsies/travellers have rights?

Yes, everyone has rights. 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.

What about residents' rights if the gypsies/travellers are causing a disturbance?

If gypsies/travellers are behaving in an antisocial manner, for example causing a disturbance, you should report it to the police by dialling 101.

Who has to clear up any mess that might be left behind?

It is the responsibility of the landowner. 

What can the police do?

The police will visit all sites reported to them. In certain circumstances (for example, where the gypsies/travellers have with them six or more vehicles), officers may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers can only be used in situations of serious criminality or public disorder not capable of being addressed by normal criminal legislation, and in which the occupation of the land is a relevant factor.

The police are bound by the Human Rights Act and may be constrained to avoid using section 61 in circumstances where it would preclude welfare considerations from being applied by the civil courts.

The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime. Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibilities of the landowner and not the Police. The police will investigate all criminal and public order offences and it is important that these are reported to them.
 

Gypsy and Travellers Transit Site - Westhampnett