Gypsy and Traveller support groups have for some time been pressing the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide guidance regarding Gypsies and Travellers who are, through no fault of their own, on unauthorised encampments.
To assist in this process CLP have now produced suggested guidance.
SUGGESTED GUIDANCE REGARDING GYPSIES AND TRAVELLERS ON UNAUTHORISED ENCAMPMENTS – EVICTIONS, LOCATIONS AND SERVICES
We are obliged to Marc Willers QC, Stephen Cottle and Tessa Buchanan of Garden Court Chambers for their assistance in preparing this suggested guidance.
Community Law Partnership (CLP) advises and represents Gypsies and Travellers throughout England and Wales. We are aware that, during the Coronavirus lockdown, Gypsy and Traveller support groups have been pressing the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to produce guidance to deal with the situation on unauthorised encampments. CLP have produced this suggested guidance to try and assist in this urgent process.
We are not including Wales in this suggested guidance as regards locations. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 s103 contains a duty to meet the assessed need for Traveller pitches. Therefore Welsh local authorities should already be providing either permanent or transit pitches.
The July 2019 English Traveller caravan count found 1,035 caravans on unauthorised encampments. This is almost certainly an underestimate.
Amongst this group will be a higher than average number of vulnerable people. Gypsies and Travellers have some of the worst outcomes nationally in terms of health and education – see, for example, Alternatives to Criminalization, University of Sheffield June 2018 (https://squattinglondon.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/response-to-gov-consultation-on-unauthorised-encampments-june-2018/). Therefore, aside from the Government guidance to stay at home during the lockdown period, many of this group will need to self-isolate.
It is vital that, during this period of lockdown, Gypsies and Travellers are allowed to remain at one location and are not evicted. We are aware of two recent cases where local authorities attempted to evict unauthorised encampments.
It should be emphasised that Gypsies and Travellers on unauthorised encampments are not in breach of the Health Protection ( Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 since they are not leaving ‘the place where they are living’ and are, in any event, homeless in terms of both the English and Welsh homelessness legislation. In any event, Gypsies and Travellers are seeking to be allowed to remain in one place during the period of lockdown.
Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) Practice Direction 51Z has, as of 27 March 2020, stayed all possession proceedings using CPR Part 55 for 90 days. However, this leaves open the possibility of evictions by the police under Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (CJPOA) 1994 ss61, 62 and 62A-E or by the local authority under CJPOA 1994 ss77 and 78.
Police and local authorities should be directed that they should not use their CJPOA eviction powers during the lockdown, save in exceptional circumstances (e.g. on public health grounds).
If a Gypsy or Traveller encampment is currently situated in an unsuitable location, the local authority must, during the period of lockdown, identify either a transit pitch or an alternative suitable location where those residing on the encampment can move to – perhaps using a negotiated stopping policy.
Department of Environment Circular 18/94 (Gypsy sites policy and unauthorised camping) para 6 states:
While it is a matter for local discretion to decide whether it is appropriate to evict an unauthorised gypsy encampment, the Secretary of State believes that local authorities should consider using their powers to do so wherever the gypsies concerned are causing a level of nuisance which cannot be effectively controlled. They also consider that it would usually be legitimate for a local authority to exercise these powers wherever gypsies who are camped unlawfully refuse to move onto an authorised local authority site. Where there are no such sites, and the authority reaches the view that an unauthorised gypsy encampment is not causing a level of nuisance which cannot be effectively controlled, it should consider providing basic services, such as toilets, a refuse skip and a supply of drinking water at that site.
Welsh Government Guidance on Managing Camping 2013 states:
117. …When unauthorised encampments are evicted there can be considerable clean-up costs incurred by local authorities. However, providing refuse collection, toilets, and water to occupiers can drastically reduce clean-up costs after an encampment has been moved on. Welfare Assessments can help local authorities to check which of these services might be required by the occupiers and also to discover if the occupiers would be prepared and able to pay for the services. If the occupiers are willing to pay for the services used, local residents could be informed of this so as to dispel the perception that encampment occupiers do not pay for services.
During the current period of lockdown, the necessary services must be provided to encampments to ensure the safety of those residing on them. Reasonable charges can be levied for services. For Gypsies and Travellers on benefits and very low incomes this should be done by way of a rent so that applications for housing benefit can be made.
6th April 2020