How we handle unauthorised traveller sites

Over the last few weeks some of our local residents have complained to us about Gypsy and Travellers camping on unauthorised sites near their homes.

While we always act promptly when alerted to unauthorised encampments we thought it might be helpful to give people an idea of the processes we have to follow.

As a council we have to strike a balance between responding to concerns from the local community and our statutory duty to look after the Travelling community.

We must be sure that the Gypsy, Romany and Travelling community is free to live the life that they choose to, while at the same time protecting property and respecting the community nearby.

There is often confusion about what we as a council have the power to do when dealing with unauthorised encampments, so we have put together this explainer which we hope will help.

We have robust processes in place to engage with the Gypsy Roma and Traveller community at unauthorised encampments.  These involve working closely with agencies such as the Police, and the Courts, which often means we are criticised for not dealing with unauthorised encampments quickly enough.

What happens when an unauthorised encampment is reported to the council?

As soon as we have a reported encampment, we check if the land in question is council owned. If it is not, we inform the landowner and we can offer legal advice. If it is on council owned land, we inform our Community Connections team.

Then what?

Our team visit the unauthorised site as soon as possible to make initial welfare checks. This is to ensure that needs of the people on the camp are met and that everyone living on the encampment is safe and well. Sometimes there are pregnancies or ill health that our Community Connections officers can help with. We are also able to discuss plans or raise any concerns regarding their situation or behaviour.

We check the site they are on and order bins and toilets to minimise damage to the area. We carry out a community impact assessment - which looks at the wider impact of the Travellers occupying the site.  This will inform the legal procedures in place so that an eviction can be arranged after we gain possession.  

We send the welfare checks to our legal team and they prepare a Notice to Quit.

What is a Notice to Quit?

This is a legal document that informs the camp that they have 24 hours to vacate the site. The Notice to Quit is served to the camp.

What happens if the Notice to Quit is ignored?

When the Notice to Quit expires and it is confirmed that the group have not vacated, papers can then be prepared for the court to apply for a possession hearing. The court will tell us the date.

How long does this take?

The court sets a hearing date, usually around a week later. This is because of court rules surrounding notice periods. Once the hearing takes place, we receive a possession order and that is served to the group signalling an eviction is going to take place.

How do you evict them?

Evictions are generally carried out by County Court bailiffs. However, due to ongoing delays in the use of these bailiffs (approximately four weeks rather than two weeks), private High Court enforcement officers are sometimes used in cases that are more urgent due to a health and safety concern, or have a high level of community impact.

Our Community Connections officers attend the evictions and a street cleaning team is called. They aim to clear up as soon as possible but our response depends on staff commitments elsewhere across the city.