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Unauthorised Encampments (UAE)

An unauthorised encampment (UAE) is defined as a group of people with vehicles who are trespassing on land with the intention of residing there without the owner's consent.

As such, a UAE is a civil trespass and is not a criminal matter.

The responsibility for dealing with a UAE rests with the land owner, whether that is the local authority or the private land owner. The police and/or local authority may not always take action where a UAE has occurred on private or local authority land.

Police powers, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to remove trespassers will only be used where there is a significant impact to the local community or other users of the land, a significant impact upon the land or a risk to life posed by the site.

Sussex Police works closely with local authority partners and other agencies to balance the needs of both settled and travelling communities. It is envisaged that the police and local council will visit the land where an encampment has been set up within a 24 hour period. Sussex Police will develop relationships with those living there to encourage mutual trust and to manage any tensions which might arise between Gypsy Traveller and settled communities. Where there is sufficient evidence to identify individuals involved in criminal acts then action will be taken, as happens across all communities.

Sussex Police works with local authorities to ensure that encampments are dealt with in an appropriate and coordinated manner. Every effort will be made to keep people informed and provide community reassurance, by way of council meetings, leaflets, local media and briefings.

Where a UAE occurs on private land, the land owner has various common law rights to recover their land. Enforcing these powers does not require the involvement of a court. However, it is important that they keep Sussex Police informed of any plans they have to clear the site.

The local authority has an obligation to perform welfare checks on those on the site and will speak to the group to find out where they have come from and how long they plan to stay. The police will offer advice to the group about local issues and their conduct to minimise any impact their presence may have on the local community. They will also identify if any offences have been committed in order to gain entry to the land. If this is the case, the police rely on witnesses to help make formal identification of those involved, so action can be taken against the individuals responsible, including arrests where necessary. Action cannot be taken against the whole group for such offences. At the end of the visit, the local authority and police will evaluate the situation and decide what, if any, action should be taken to deal with the unauthorised encampment.

A caravan or trailer is recognised as being the home of a Gypsy or Traveller, as specified in the Human Rights Act, and any action taken must be justified, lawful, proportionate and necessary.

How do you make a decision whether to direct the dispersal of an UAE?

Once all the circumstances of an unauthorised encampment have been assessed, a police officer at the rank of Superintendent (or above) may authorise the direction to the individuals or the whole group to leave the particular piece of land on which they are camped and to remove any vehicles or other property they have with them. They will use the following criteria to assist in their decision making:

  • if it can be shown that the presence of the encampment is seriously disrupting the ability of the settled community to make use of facilities or conduct their business.
  • if the location of the encampment presents a risk to those on site (for example, the land is contaminated or there is another hazard).
  • if the land itself is of a particularly sensitive nature (for example, it is a site of special scientific interest).

Where the police give such a direction, it only requires the trespassers to relocate from that discrete location and does not prevent them moving only a short distance in the same locality.

If none of these criteria apply, the local authority will either allow the encampment or consider civil eviction legal proceedings. If they decide to take action, the local authority will need to provide witness statements to their legal department and make an application at the county court, which will take a number of days to prepare and be heard.

If a suitable transit site within the same local authority area is available that meets the assessed needs of the group, they can offer this facility. On occasion, Travellers may turn down this offer and when this occurs the local authority can ask the police to intervene and give a legal direction for the group or individuals to relocate to this transit site, or face a criminal sanction. Where this course of action is followed, the trespassers cannot return to the location or anywhere else within the relevant Local Authority area for three months. Unauthorised Encampment Community Reassurance Plan [PDF 1]

The Community Reassurance Plan details the action expected of Neighbourhood Policing Teams to provide reassurance and support to communities in the event of unauthorised encampments being formed in their policing area.

Useful documents