Advice on unauthorised encampments
When people move on to a piece of land they do not own, without the permission of the landowner, this is called an unauthorised encampment. This is a civil matter of trespass between the landowner and the occupants of the encampment, and it is the responsibility of the landowner to deal with the encampment.
Occasionally unauthorised encampments may be set up on either council or privately-owned land. This may involve moving vehicles and caravans on to the land.
If the land is Council owned we may be able to apply for a Possession Order. We will need to show consideration for the housing, health, welfare and education needs of the occupants of the encampment. This usually requires an assessment visit to the encampment before any legal action can be taken.
Land that is privately owned by a company or individual, would need the landowner to obtain a Possession Order through the County Court or Magistrates Court through the use of a private solicitor or by using a bailiff service.
Frequently asked questions
The law requires us to:
- show that the unauthorised encampment is on council-owned land without consent
- ensure that human rights, equalities and other related legislation has been complied with
- make enquiries about the general health and welfare of the occupants of the encampment and children’s education
- follow a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the unauthorised encampment
- gather sufficient evidence to demonstrate to a court of law that the unauthorised encampment is causing detriment of open space usage in the local community.
The above information is required to be successful in the application for a court order for the removal of an unauthorised encampment to the magistrates court.
The timescale for an eviction order application to be heard at court depends on court availability, the nature of the land being occupied and the behaviour of the occupants of the encampment. On public open space where the occupants of the encampment are denying lawful use of the land, the process from start to eviction could be five to seven days. On other sites where occupants of the encampment are not causing significant detriment to the local community the eviction process could take around two weeks.
Council officers will carry out a site visit, and make initial enquiries of the occupants and establish how many people are on site and caravan/ vehicle details and identify who the landowner is. If the unauthorised encampment is on council-owned land, we will instruct Hampshire County Council’s Gypsy Liasion Officer to carry out a welfare assessment of the occupants of the encampment before any decision is made in respect of issuing a Direction to request that they leave the land. If the occupants are on private land, enquiries will be made to establish land ownership and the landowner will be notified of the encampment.
If an unauthorised encampment is on council-owned land, we have the power to move the vehicles and caravans but are not required to do so. We can only evict the unauthorised encampment subject to complying with Human Rights legislation and other legal procedures.
If an unauthorised encampment is on private land including land owned by Parish or Town Councils, it is primarily the landowner’s responsibility to deal with the eviction.
Equalities legislation recognises gypsies and travellers as a specific racial group. With regards to human rights, the issue that the council must take into account is whether the interference with an individual's family life and home is justified and proportionate.
Trespass is not a criminal offence, it is a civil matter and as such the police are not responsible for dealing or managing unauthorised encampments. The Police however work very closely with us to help manage unauthorised encampments and when appropriate will take action to deal with problems that may arise.
The Police will visit the unauthorised encampment in certain circumstances and may choose to use their powers under s.61 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It is for the senior officer who visits the unauthorised encampment to decide what action should be taken if using their powers.
We will not take steps to remove unauthorised encampments from private land, but in some circumstances might be able to offer the landowner practical advice and assistance. We will not give the landowner legal advice and/or recommend any particular course of legal action.
If the occupants of the encampment are under the threat of being homeless, then we have responsibilities under the Homelessness reduction Act 2017.