Illegal/unauthorised encampment and fly-tipping

Questions and answers

What should I do if I see people pulling onto a Council owned site such as a park or car park?

Please report the sighting to us immediately - we will then work with the police to investigate. Please call the Council’s switchboard line: 020 8871 6000.

Provide as much information as possible, including information like the name of the site, the number of vehicles and registration numbers. Don't approach or confront them - just let us know what you have seen.

What action will the Council and police take?

If an unauthorised encampment is on Council land, we have the power (but not a duty) to move them on and may only evict them subject to complying with human rights legislation and other procedures. Failure to comply would render the Council and police officers liable to challenge in the courts, potentially proving costly and quite probably resulting in a lengthy stay for the encampment.

The police will go to the site to establish the number of vehicles, the names of those present and whether any criminal offences have been committed. An assessment will be made as to whether police powers should be used, however trespass is not a criminal offence - it's a civil matter. The police may not be able to take immediate action or make the group move.

If the police can't use their powers to move them on, the Council will start the process to arrange removal, which takes between two to five working days. The Council has a number of legal requirements it must fulfil before this, including checking the health and welfare needs of those on the site. 

A decision is then made by the Council as to whether those on the site should have further welfare arrangements made, and stay on site until this happens, or if they can be told to move on. If it is appropriate to move the group on, the Council will serve enforcement notices which will specify a time by which they must leave.

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What action is taken if the encampment is on private land?

If an unauthorised encampment is on private land it is primarily the landowners' responsibility to deal with the eviction. The Council will offer advice if asked by the landowner. The police will of course tackle all reports of crime (but not trespass) when they are reported.

What happens if they do not move on as directed?

The Council will then instruct bailiffs to enforce the notice, using any reasonable means including towing the vehicles. The police will also attend to prevent a breach of the peace and to ensure bailiffs can carry out the Council's instructions

Will the police or Council prosecute if the law is broken during an unauthorised encampment?

Anyone found committing a crime will be challenged and prosecuted. Police action will be based on proof and needs to be beyond reasonable doubt. The police will need witnesses to the criminal activity, please let the police know if you are willing to make a statement and attend court. If you witness racist, unlawful and/or antisocial behaviour, report it to the police by calling 101, or you can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. If it is an emergency dial 999.

I have seen someone fly-tipping on the site, what should I do?

If you see anyone fly-tipping, please tell us or the police immediately. Try to note down the registration number of any vehicles involved.

If the fly-tipping is in progress, the police can take action as this is a criminal activity. If objects have already been fly-tipped, the Council will investigate and arrange to clear it.

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Who will tidy up the site after the unauthorised encampment?

The Council will arrange to clear the site. Depending on the type and amount of material that has been left, this may take a few hours or several days.

What can be done to stop further illegal encampments?

The Council can put physical measures in place such as barriers and bollards at vulnerable sites to make it difficult to gain access. However, it's very difficult to secure all access points, especially when those involved are prepared to cause criminal damage to gain entry.

How can I find out what action the Council is taking to deal with an unauthorised encampment?

You can call our switchboard line: 020 8871 6000, who will have the latest update on any illegal encampment.

Race equality considerations

Race relations legislation recognises Gypsies and Travellers as specific racial groups, i.e. Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers, and those other Gypsies and Travellers who are of ethnic or national origin and come within the definition of a racial group within the legislation, e.g. Scottish Travellers. The legislation places a duty on public authorities, including the Council, to promote race equality.

We employ staff who are trained to act as Gypsy and Traveller Liaison Officers, and these staff members are responsible for identifying and considering the welfare needs of Gypsies and Travellers. You can contact our Traveller Liaison team by email, or by phone on 07500 959 442.

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What about Gypsies/Travellers who buy their own land and set up home on that?

Gypsies and Travellers need to gain planning consent for such a site just like anyone else. If they do not then the site is classed as an unauthorised development and the local planning authority will deal with it under the normal planning powers available to it.

What if a landowner is content to allow an unauthorised encampment to remain temporarily?

Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission or is a farmer and the encampers are, for example, helping with harvesting crops, the landowner could be in breach of planning law and the laws dealing with the licensing of caravan sites.

What can I do if I want to protect my land from unauthorised encampments?

Trespass on land is a civil matter and prevention of trespass is the responsibility of the landowner. If you don't want to tolerate encampments for short periods of time, you may wish to consider a) whether any physical steps may be taken to prevent access to your land and b) if you or your solicitor can go to a county court and obtain an order granting you possession of your land.

What if the landowner will not take action to remove encampers?

If the landowner will not take appropriate action to remove the encampers and is in breach of any planning or licence requirements, the local planning authority may take action against the landowner to require the removal of the caravans. Court action would likely follow if the landowner does not comply.

What is 'negotiated stopping'?

Negotiated stopping involves local authority officers making an agreement with Gypsies and Travellers on unauthorised encampments. The agreement allows Travellers to stay either on the land they are camped on or move to a bit of land more suitable for all parties. The length of the agreement can also vary.

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Find out more

You can find out more by visiting Her Majesty's Courts Service, and can seek advice from the Citizens Advice.