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Gypsies - FAQ

Kent County Council LogoAuthor: The content on this page was created by sources from Kent County Council representing all Kent District Councils.

Disclaimer: Swale Borough Council (SBC) makes every effort to ensure that the information on this website is accurate and up-to-date. However, we cannot accept responsibility for any content not belonging to Swale Borough Council (SBC) and we provide no guarantee of the content or the accuracy. Please direct any comments or complaints to the relevant authors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction 

This leaflet is designed for anyone who has questions about unauthorised encampments within Kent and Medway. It has been agreed by officers from Kent County Council, Medway Council, all District Councils and Kent Police, and represents the common approach taken by public authorities in Kent.

General 

The Council recognises and accepts the rights of Gypsies and Travellers to live a nomadic way of life and recognises Gypsies as a racial group. The council also recognises Government Circulars/guidelines and its statutory duties with regard to Gypsy and Travellers families. When dealing with Unauthorised Encampment issues, it aims to ensure that all people in Kent feel they are part of an inclusive society, where all have equal access to services and other facilities. The Council confirms the commitment to equal opportunities for all residents and users of services, and to continue adopting services to meet the different needs of all communities.

The Council also recognises that all members of the community have the right to enjoy a quality of life that is free of harassment and offensive behaviour and is committed to use the law to tackle all forms of anti-social behaviour.

Various people live in caravans, mobile homes or vehicles on land they do not own, and without the agreement of the owner. Many are Gypsies or Travellers. Some travel long distances from their home base. Some only move locally. Some are working as they travel. Some are not. Some have lived all their lives on the road. Some cause difficulties to others, as they travel. Some do not. All should be judged by how they behave towards landowners and others, not by a stereotype or single view that others may have of Gypsies or Travellers generally. But, whatever the past history and tradition, encamping on someone's land without their consent is unlawful in itself. In certain circumstances, it is not just a breach of civil law, but also criminal law.

Public authorities in Kent are landowners themselves, manage land and must consider the rights and responsibilities of everyone living in their area. Public authorities have a duty to inform and assist everyone, as best they can. This leaflet is designed for everyone living in, or travelling through, Kent.

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Race equality considerations: 

The Race Relations Act recognises Gypsies and Travellers as specific racial groups i.e. Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers, and those other Gypsies and Travellers who are ethnic or national in origin and could come within the definition of a racial group under the RRA e.g. Scottish Travellers.

The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 (RRA) places on public authorities a statutory duty to promote race equality. The aim is to help public authorities to provide fair and accessible services, and to improve equal opportunities in employment.

The aim of the duty is to make the promotion of racial equality central to the work of the public authorities. The general duty also expects public authorities to take the lead in promoting equality of opportunity and good race relations, and preventing unlawful discrimination. In practice, this means that listed public authorities must take account of racial equality in the day-to-day work of policy-making, service delivery, employment practice and other functions.

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Why do some Gypsies/Travellers travel in Kent? 

Kent is crossed by the major motorways M25, M20, M2 and M26. Many Gypsies/Travellers find work here including tree felling and pruning, laying tarmac, roofing, gardening and other general building or clearance work.

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Why do some Gypsies/Travellers make unauthorised encampments in Kent? 

The nomadic lifestyle of ethnic Gypsies is legally recognised. Other people that choose a nomadic lifestyle enjoy the freedom to choose that lifestyle. Provided Gypsies/Travellers do not cause nuisance or anti-social behaviour, and if other factors allow it, we aim to tolerate encampments for as long as we reasonably can. However, this has to be balanced with the rights of the wider public to quietly enjoy private and public land. We will treat Gypsies and Travellers on encampments the same as we would anyone else.

Whilst there are a number of authorised private and Council run sites in the county, we are aware that the Travelling community can experience some difficulties finding authorised sites to go to. We are looking at possible long term solutions to that problem. One such solution may be to provide 'Transit Sites' to where Gypsies/Travellers can be directed. Councils will consider this in their future Development Plans. The Government is providing funding for such sites in 2004/05 and possibly beyond.

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Do the Council or Police have a duty to move Unauthorised Encampments on when they are camped without the landowner's permission? 

No. The powers given to local authorities and the police are discretionary and can only be used when certain conditions exist. This leaflet briefly sets out those conditions and what you should expect of the Council and Police. These agencies do use their powers but have to ensure that the powers are used lawfully, especially in compliance with Human Rights legislation. Failure to comply with both civil and criminal procedures would render council and Police officers liable to successful challenge in the courts, proving potentially costly, and could potentially result in the temporary loss of those powers.

The duty of the Police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime. Trespass on land by itself is not a crime - it is a civil matter. Prevention of trespass is the responsibility of the landowner, not the Council or the Police.

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What about criminal activity associated with some unauthorised encampments? 

Most Gypsies and Travellers are law-abiding citizens. The anti-social and criminal aspects of the local Gypsy/Traveller community relate to a small minority. Often the efforts of the Police to deal with and detect related offences are hindered by an unwillingness of people to come forward and offer the evidence needed to arrest or summons offenders.

Gypsies/Travellers frequently become the object of unfounded criminal complaints and the Police have to ensure that the standards of proof are applied equally for all. The Police will and do deal with crime committed by Gypsies/Travellers when there is a complaint and evidence to support it, just as they would when committed by anyone else.

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When will the authorities move Unauthorised Encampments on? 

The main legislation relating to unauthorised camping is Sections 61 and 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. That legislation is bound by various interpretations from the courts and guidance notes from Government. These guidance notes do not allow or tolerate anti-social or criminal behaviour and such behaviour actually speeds up the processes of the Police and Council in using the powers.

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Why don't the Police get involved with trespass? 

Trespass on its own is not a criminal offence (i.e. an offence for which the Police have any powers), it is a civil matter. However, each unauthorised encampment is closely monitored and all circumstances surrounding the actions of those on the encampment are taken into account when the use of Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is being considered by the Police. Once the use of this power has been activated, failure by the Unauthorised Encampers to comply with the requirement made by the Police to leave, or that particular group return to the same land within three months, they commit another offence for which there is power of arrest.

In order to investigate criminal activity, written evidence from witnesses must be provided to police and an agreement to support any subsequent prosecution.

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What is Section 61? 

Section 61 can only be applied by the Police. It can apply when two or more people are trespassing on land to reside there and the landowner has taken reasonable steps to require them to leave (and they have failed to do so). In addition, one of the following also has to apply:

Any enforcement of Section 61 requires considered resourcing (i.e. the number of police officers required to take successful action may not be immediately available), and it may appear that no action is being taken. However, when appropriate, and when safe action can be taken, enforcement will take place.

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When do the Police consider using Section 61? 

The local Police will consider using their powers in the following situations:

However, Section 61 cannot be used on highways.

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What is Section 77? 

This is the power used by the Council where Unauthorised Encampers move onto its land with the purpose of residing there in vehicles.

Section 77 allows the Council to require the Unauthorised Encampers to leave, if appropriate. In addition, council officers can require the Unauthorised Encampers to remove their vehicles and property. It becomes an offence (with no power of arrest) for the Unauthorised Encampers if they fail to leave the land and remove their property within a reasonable time, or if they return to that land within three months. Special consideration exists for those who have an illness, an emergency or a vehicle breakdown. Local authorities have a legal obligation to make humanitarian enquiries and to take account of considerations of common humanity whatever the powers used. All decisions by public bodies must be 'proportionate' and accord with the Human Rights Act.

Having made a requirement as above, under Section 77, if the Unauthorised Encampers fail to comply with the direction to leave, the Council can apply to the Magistrates' Court under Section 78 of the Act to make a Court Order for them to leave with their vehicles. If such an Order is granted, it authorises council officers to enter the land and remove the property (caravans/cars etc.) to a safe place. To obstruct council officers executing such an order is an offence (with no power of arrest). The Council will try to recover costs from the trespassers in such circumstances.

All landowners (including local authorities) can recover possession of their land by using a county court, if their land is occupied by someone without their consent.

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What do Councils (KCC, Medway, Districts) do to stop Unauthorised Encampments re-occurring on Council land? 

Some councils have carried out works to protect a number of vulnerable and unsuitable council owned sites, and continue to protect other unsuitable sites as they are identified. Councils are continually trying to establish closer links with other agencies to ensure that any problems relating to unauthorised encampments are dealt with as swiftly as possible.

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What can I do if Unauthorised Encampments occur on my land? 

If you are not willing to tolerate the encampment for a short period, you or your solicitor can go to a county court and obtain an order granting you possession of the land. Further details can be obtained by contacting the local county court. Alternatively, you can log onto their website (Court Service) to download the necessary application forms. Advice is also available from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

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What if I am content to allow Unauthorised Encampers to remain on my land? 

In the first instance, call your local District Council for guidance, as you may be in breach of planning and other regulations. However, Central Government does encourage toleration of Unauthorised Encampments when no nuisance or anti-social behaviour is occurring.

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I have seen an Unauthorised Encampment on the side of the road and on Council land. What can the Council do? 

If the Gypsies/Travellers are causing a problem, they will be moved on as soon as reasonably possible. If they are not causing a problem, the Government has asked that the consideration be given to tolerating the encampment for short periods of time. Each case is considered on its own merits. In all cases, the site is visited by various agencies and every effort made to try and keep the site tidy.

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I own land and want to know what I can do to stop Unauthorised Encampments on it? 

Prevention of trespass is the responsibility of the landowner, not the Council or the Police. If you do not want tolerate encampments for short stays, they should consider whether any physical steps can be taken to prevent access to their land.

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What can I do if I witness anti-social or unlawful behaviour? 

As in any instance, you should report anti-social and unlawful behaviour to the police. It is the duty of the police to preserve the peace and prevent crime. Nuisance can also be reported to the local authority environmental health department.

If you are unhappy about becoming involved with the police, a Council officer may be able to pass the information on to the Police on your behalf if she or he believes what you are reporting should be brought to their attention. You can also call Crimestoppers on (0800) 555111.

Make a note of the name of the person you are talking to, any reference number you are given and the date and time of the call.

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What about the rubbish left by some Unauthorised Encampments? 

Local authorities, the Police and the Environment Agency are seeking ways of using existing legislation to deal with these anti-social and often expensive problems. Private land owners are responsible for the removal of waste if on their land. Certain waste requires special treatment. If in doubt, contact the Environment Agency Hotline on (0800) 807060.

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Out of hours 

There are currently no special out of hours arrangements because public authorities in Kent have no duty to take immediate action by themselves, although information can be given to KCC by phoning its General Enquiry and Reporting Line - (0845) 3450210 - which operates from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings.

I still have some queries or questions. Who can help? 

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There is a single Kent Police force, with policies, practices, and procedures on this subject.

Kent Police
Force Headquarters
Sutton Road
Maidstone
Kent
ME15 9BZ
Tel: (01622) 690690

Kent Police

Kent County Council is strategically responsible for Highways, Education, Social Services, Trading Standards, Strategic Planning and a variety of other services across the Administrative County (not the Postal County) of Kent, except the Medway Towns where Medway Council (formerly Gillingham and Rochester-upon-Medway Council areas) is responsible.

Kent County Council
Sessions House
Maidstone
Kent
ME14 1XQ
Tel: (01622) 671411

Kent County Council

Medway Council
Civic Centre
Strood
Kent
ME2 4AU
Tel: (01634) 306000

Medway Council

Twelve district councils cover the same area of Kent, between them, as KCC. They are responsible for environmental health, local planning and housing - though much housing is now managed by housing associations.

Kent Councils
Ashford Borough Council
Civic Centre
Tannery Lane
Ashford
Kent
TN12 1PL
Tel: (01233) 331111
Ashford Borough Council
Canterbury City Council
Military Road
Canterbury
Kent
CT1 1YW
Tel: (01227) 862000
Canterbury City Council
Dartford Borough Council
Civic Centre
Home Gardens
Dartford
Kent
DA1 1DR
Tel: (01322) 343434
Dartford Borough Council
Dover District Council
White Cliffs Business Park
Dover
Kent
CT16 3PJ
Tel: (01304) 821199
Dover District Council
Gravesham Borough Council
Civic Centre
Windmill Street
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1AU
Tel: (01474) 564422
Gravesham Borough Council
Maidstone Borough Council
13 Tonbridge Road
Maidstone
Kent
ME16 8HR
Tel: (01622) 602000
Maidstone Borough Council
Sevenoaks District Council
Council Offices
Argyle Road
Sevenoaks
Kent
TN13 1HG
Tel: (01732) 227000
Sevenoaks District Council
Shepway District Council
Castle Hill Avenue
Folkstone
Kent
CT20 2QY
Tel: (01303) 850388
Shepway District Council
Swale Borough Council
Swale House
East Street
Sittingbourne
Kent
ME10 3HT
Tel: (01795) 417850
Swale Borough Council
Thanet District Council
PO Box 9
Cecil Street
Margate
Kent
CT9 1XZ
Tel: (01843) 577000
Thanet District Council
Tonbridge and Malling BC
Gibson Drive
Kings Hill
West Malling
Kent
ME19 4LZ
Tel: (01732) 844522
Tunbridge and Malling
Tunbridge Wells BC
Town Hall
Civic Way
Tunbridge Wells
Kent
TN1 IRS
Tel: (01892) 526121
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority cover the same area as KCC and Medway Council.

Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority
Preston Hall
London Road
Aylesford
Kent
ME20 7NJ
(01622) 710161

There is a Protocol for the Management of Unauthorised Encampment on Public Land in Kent. Two organisations who assist Travellers and Gypsies took part in the drawing up of the Protocol. They are:

The Gypsy Council
8 Hall Road
Aveley
Essex
RM15 4HD
Tel: (01708) 868986
Email:

Friends, Families and Travellers
Community Base
113 Queens Road
Brighton
BN1 3XG
Tel: (01273) 234777
Email: Friends, Families and Travellers

All agencies may have different personnel dealing with Gypsies/Travellers. Nevertheless, Kent Police, local authorities and other public bodies work closely together, to ensure that all decisions and actions are consistent and within the law.

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Further useful contacts

Agency Call Website
Crimestoppers (0800) 555111 Crime Stoppers UK
Environment Agency (0800) 807060 Environment Agency
Citizens Advice Bureau   Citizens Advice Bureau

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