As we move into the school holidays, we are seeing an increase in instructions for removing unauthorised encampments from land. Given the lack of affordable housing, traveller sites and, now, holiday accommodation in hot spot areas, we expect to see a big rise in unauthorised encampments across popular visitor sites.
What is an unauthorised encampment?
An unauthorised encampment is where a person or a group of people move onto land without the permission of the landowner (or tenant where the land is subject to a lease or tenancy agreement) and stay there. They may be camping in a tent or have vehicles and caravans or motorhomes. They may be there for a short period of time or they may intend to stay longer.
What can you do about an unauthorised encampment?
The legal remedies for an unauthorised encampment on open land are:
- Police action
- Civil proceedings against trespassers
What action can the police take with unauthorised encampments?
The police have powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to direct the trespassers to leave the land, if the encampment either:
- consists of 6 or more vehicles.
- the Council have requested they move on, and
- they have caused damage to the land.
- have used threatening abusive or intimidating behaviour towards council staff.
Failure to comply with a police direction is an offence. It’s also offence if the same trespassers return to land within 3 months of being given direction.
When will the police get involved with an unauthorised encampment?
Police guidance suggests that the police will only consider using these powers if:
- local amenities are effected.
- there is a significant impact to environment.
- there is anti-social behaviour.
- economic impact.
- there is a danger to life.
The police are not compelled to act and, in our experience, generally decline to do so. There are new laws planned to give police stronger powers to seize vehicle and arrest trespassers. This law has not been passed yet.
What are the civil proceedings against trespassers?
- Possession proceedings - For open land, you would need to apply to the court for a standard trespass claim which will get you a possession order for the land which is then enforced by Warrant (County Court Bailiffs) or Writ (High Court Bailiffs). This order can include a claim for damages as well an Injunction to prevent the trespass being repeated. If the trespasser(s) did not leave, they could potentially be sent to prison. Courts have to prioritise possession claims against trespassers but in our experience they is still some delay. Claims can be expedited if the trespassers have caused damage to the land or have been violent or threatened violence.
- Anti-social behaviour injunction - Local authorities and Social landlords are able to apply for Anti Social Behaviour Injunctions where anti social behaviour is occurring on their land. These injunctions can be sought against “persons unknown” although enforcement, if the injunction is breached, can be difficult. These sort of injunctions can exclude people from land (and require them to leave) as well as carry a power of arrest if breached. Also, they can be sought on a “without notice” basis where the circumstances justify an emergency injunction. Where trespassers are causing anti social behaviour, such a noise nuisance or littering, an Anti Social Behaviour Injunction is a quick tool to quell that behaviour and potentially remove the trespassers from the land.
What other steps are there?
Most High Court Sheriffs offer a service whereby they will attempt to negotiate and persuade trespassers to leave occupied land. If, however, this fails, the legal remedies set out above will need to be used.
For those looking to park their motorhome in a scenic spot for a night or two, words of advice from you requesting them to move on may do the trick. However, most will know their rights and will await legal action before moving off.
How can you help prevent unauthorised encampments?
You can take preventative measures to secure the land against unauthorised encampments; boulders at entrances, gates and fences may assist. Bear in mind that if trespassers damage the land (including any gates or fences), this may give rise to police action (criminal damage) or an expedited claim for possession.
Warning signs to warn that trespassers will be subject to prosecution may also work.
In summary, if you have a trespassers on your open land, the first thing you should do is ask them to leave – both in writing and verbally. Photographs should be taken of the encampment. If the trespassers have damaged the land, been abusive or threatened violence, inform the police. If the police will not exercise their powers, apply for a possession order or an Anti Social Behaviour Injunction via the County Court.
Find out more
We have a great deal of experience in acting for councils, park authorities, social landlords and private park owners in obtaining possession orders against trespassers and Anti Social Behaviour Injunctions. We can act quickly in getting the matter into court for you and will arrange service of the claim as well and enforcement of any orders.
For any further help or advice please contact our expert lawyers.