What is an Unauthorised Encampment?
Unauthorised encampments (UEs) are defined by the Government as "encampments of caravans and/or other vehicles on land without the landowner or occupier's consent and constituting trespass". Unauthorised camping is not a criminal offence. It is a civil offence (trespass), giving landowners the right to repossess their property using the due process of law. The prevention of trespass is the responsibility of the landowner.
Who deals with Unauthorised Encampments?
It depends on who owns or controls the land. Private landowners, Local Authorities and the Police all have powers to deal with UEs.
All UEs on Dartford Borough Council (DBC) land will be dealt with by DBC Enforcement Team Officers. If the UE is on Highways land or land owned by parish councils within the borough of Dartford, Kent County Council (KCC) and Parish councils have provided authority to DBC Enforcement Officers to take the necessary action on their behalf.
If the UE is on privately owned land it is for the landowner to resolve. DBC Enforcement Team will liaise with the landowner and offer advice and guidance as necessary.
How to report an Unauthorised Encampment
|ISSUE||WHO TO CALL|
|Encampment has already occurred||Dartford Borough Council – 01322 343434 or Report online now
Kent County Council Unauthorised Encampment - 03000 414141
|Encampment about to take place||Kent Police – 101
Dartford Borough Council – 01322 343434
|In an emergency, when life is in danger or a crime is in progress||Kent Police 999|
Unauthorised encampments on Dartford Borough Council Land
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives Local Authorities in England and Wales powers to make directions to leave land being used by itinerant groups (section 77). It is offence to fail to comply with such a direction. In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for the accused to show that failure to leave or remove vehicles or other property as soon as practicable, or re-entry with a vehicle was due to illness, mechanical breakdown or other immediate emergency. If a direction to leave is not complied with, the Local Authority can apply to the Magistrates Court for an order requiring the removal of vehicles and any occupants from the land (section 78).
DBC Enforcement Officers, accompanied by Kent Police Officers, will seek to immediately attend the site and carry out a risk assessment. If it is not appropriate for the Police to use their Section 61 powers to order the trespassers to leave the land, DBC Enforcement Officers will then serve verbal and written notice for them to leave, carry out welfare assessments and the requisite notice will be served to vacate the land within a prescribed time, usually 24 hours. A community Protection Warning Letter may also be served on the itinerant groups.
DBC Enforcement officers will attend at Magistrates Court and lay the information and obtain a summons for the trespassers to attend at court. Once granted, this summons is served the same day for the trespassers to attend at court the following morning. A Community Protection Notice may also be served with the summons.
Failure to attend and / or leave land by a time specified on the requested date to vacate, in contravention of Sections 77 and 78, will result in an eviction / controlled removal.
Following the encampment moving off the site, the DBC Enforcement Manager will notify all relevant partners and interested parties that the site has been vacated. A clean-up operation may then be required along with action to target harden and secure the site if possible.
Unauthorised Encampments on private land
The DBC Enforcement Team will make every effort to contact the landowner to ascertain if the encampment has permission or not. DBC Enforcement Officers will attend the UE and will provide support, advice and guidance to the landowner as required around welfare assessments and removal / eviction of the UE.
UEs may be dealt with through negotiation but if this is not possible, action can be taken to remove trespassers from the land. Landowners can ask a trespasser to move and, if they refuse, may use reasonable measures to remove them. Landowners may employ bailiffs for this purpose. Alternatively, a landowner can regain possession of their land by pursuing a claim for possession through the County Courts under Civil Procedure Rules 55. County Court bailiffs can be used to remove trespassers from the land once a possession order has been granted.
The role of Kent Police in dealing with Unauthorised Encampments
Kent Police and DBC work together very closely regarding incidents of UEs.
In certain Circumstances a senior Police Officer has the discretion to order the travellers to leave and remove any vehicles and other property they may have with them (sections 61 and 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003).
These powers can be used when two or more people are trespassing on land with six or more vehicles or where they have damaged land or property, where there has been threatening/abusive/insulting behaviour used against the occupier, the family or agent and where the landowner has asked the trespassers to leave (and they have not).
Subject to the above, the Police may then order the immediate vacation from the site. The Police may consider using their powers when there is disruption to local business, schools or hospitals; where significant damage has been caused to the property, eg: forced entry; where there is evidence of offences being committed by the trespassers; or where any of the trespassers have used threatening behaviour.
The Police have a duty to preserve the peace and prevent offences against people and property and this applies to the whole of the community, including gypsy / travellers.