29 February: There are currently no unauthorised encampments that we are aware of

We will work to remove unauthorised encampments in Torbay and to treat all those involved with dignity and respect. We also expect this in return and will not tolerate violent, aggressive or inappropriate behaviour towards our staff.

An unauthorised encampment is one where Gypsies and/or other Travellers camp on land that they do not own, and without the owner’s permission. An unauthorised encampment is not a criminal offence.

Where we act to remove an unauthorised encampment we do so as the land owner, and there is not a statutory duty for us to act. We have no powers to intervene if the encampment is on private land.

Reporting an encampment

Generally, we become aware of encampments very quickly. Please check the current encampments to see if this has already been reported. 

If the encampment is on private property we are unable to take any action.

If you want to report an encampment use the online form and we will log the details. You will not get a response.

  Report an unauthorised encampment

When we get your report it is unlikely that the encampment will be removed immediately. This is because our work has to follow the law and a process which takes time.  

What we will do

We can only take action if an encampment is on our land. We have no legal powers over privately owned land. For an illegal encampment on our land we will: 

Day 1 - Unauthorised encampment starts

Day 1 to 3 - Visit the site

This will be done as soon as possible (dependant on day/time of arrival) by appropriate officers and they will find out how long the groups are hoping to stay and why they are here.

Day 2 to 7 - Assess any legal needs of the travellers

We advises partner agencies of the encampment and requests the attendance of health visitors and where appropriate, the education welfare officers to make an assessment. These partners endeavour to respond within 3 working days of a request, subject to their availability. The outcome of these assessments will subsequently determine the appropriate course of action to be taken by us.

Before taking any action to evict an unauthorised encampment, we have an obligation to carry out welfare assessments of the unauthorised campers. We must consider whether these enquiries have revealed circumstances which warrant further examination or lead to the conclusion that the eviction should be postponed.

Other considerations in managing such an encampment will include one of toleration, relevant case law, the Humans Rights Act and the best interest of the child which are mandated as a primary consideration.

Day 7 - Hold a review meeting

We liaise with agencies including the Police, Health service and other departments who have an interest in the land to determine the most appropriate course of action. This includes the location and nature of the land to which the unauthorised encampment is situated, any impact on the settled community; the needs of those present on site, in particular the presence of any children; any health and welfare needs, the size of the encampment and whether actual anti-social behaviour or criminality has been associated with it.

The Government guidance requires us to exercise some tolerance to such encampments and make decisions based on all available information.

Day 7 to 8 - Apply to the Court

If the decision is made to seek possession of the land, we generally use Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules (“proceedings”). In doing so, we obtain a hearing date from the Court and are required to give 48 hours notice to the occupants of the land between service of proceedings and the Court hearing date.

Where there are threats of assault, actual damage or associated anti-social behaviour by those occupying the land, or the land occupied is of a particularly sensitive nature, it may be possible for us to ask the Court to use their general powers of case management and shorten the required 48 hour required notice period. Where this is appropriate, we could obtain possession of the land on the same date that the proceedings are issued. However, it is important to note that this does not generally reduce the time period significantly.

If we fail to follow its statutory and procedural obligations, this may result in an application being refused and delay any subsequent possession being granted.

Day 10 to 11 - Attend the Court hearing

We will obtain the Possession Order and serve on the Unauthorised Encampment.

Day 11 to 12 - Encampment remains

If the unauthorised encampment remains we will return to Court to issue a Warrant of Possession.

Day 14 - Enforcement

Where a possession order has been granted and the unauthorised encampment refuses to vacate the land, the Council will seek enforcement of that Court order using County Court Bailiffs.

Please note that this is a guideline only and dates may slip due to unforeseen circumstances, availability of partner agencies, court availability, weekends and bank holidays.

Frequently asked questions

We always work with local police when managing unauthorised encampments. If there is evidence of criminal damage or any other criminal behaviour on a site, then the police will take action. If you have concerns about a crime being committed or serious anti-social behaviour then please contact the police to make sure the matter is logged. 

We have no evidence that crime and disorder within an area increases when Gypsies and Travellers are camped nearby.

This will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. We will need to take account of all of the issues outlined above as well as how soon we can get a court hearing date. Generally it will take around 2 working weeks to go through the process.

Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules permits us to issue proceedings against persons unknown and once an order is obtained, it can be used to prevent those same persons from returning to the same site for approximately 6 months. Therefore if there are any new additions to the encampment once proceedings have been served, they become subject to the same proceedings.

The use of Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules is widely used by local authorities.

We keep under review its management of unauthorised encampments, in doing so Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules continues to be the most cost effective, reliable and expedient route in managing such encampments on Council owned land.

The use of Part 55 Civil Procedure Rules is generally known and understood by those who local authorities seek possession against and tends to result in land being vacated once proceedings have been issued.

Demonstrates compliance by us of our obligations and commitment to undertake necessary health and welfare checks and seeks to preclude any subsequent legal challenge in this regard, as we and the Court are public bodies which must determine that its decisions are proportionate.

This is generally not true. Sometimes groups of travellers move off quickly of their own accord. 

As detailed above, it is possible for an authority to ask the Court to use its general powers of case management.

In our experience, the average time is between 7 and 10 days. However, we are dependent upon the Courts availability for a hearing date. If unauthorised occupants refuse to vacate the land, we are then reliant on the availability of the County Court Bailiff’s to enforce an order by carrying out the eviction.

It is important to note that we are also reliant on the availability of partner agencies to undertake health and welfare checks. Over time we have established an excellent working relationship with our partner agencies and in doing so, our requests for these checks to be undertaken are carried out expeditiously. In our experience, health and welfare checks are usually carried out within 3 and 5 days.

Government guidance states that it is good practice to allow some toleration for short periods in locations where the encampment does not have any adverse impact on the settled community. We follow this guidance on each and every unauthorised encampment.  The ODPM Guidance on Managing Unauthorised Camping (2004) indicates that local authorities should not use their common law powers to evict unauthorised encampments but should, instead, use eviction procedures which involve court action.

There are a range of legal options available to us, but generally these are not appropriate for the types of unauthroised encampments experienced in Torbay.

Use of Pre-emptive injunctions

We have sought Counsel’s advice on whether the power of applying for a pre-emptive injunction would be applicable to unauthorised encampments.  This is only appropriate if known individuals are present in the encampment and their presence is known is advance.  A Pre-emptive Injunction can only really be used where the defendant is in situ and deliberately or flagrantly flouting the law before an injunction will be granted.  A Court is unlikely to make an order for a pre-emptive injunction where the land is not currently occupied, as this is a discretionary remedy, without the persons directly affected by the order having an opportunity to object.

It is our opinion that a pre-emptive injunction is not cost effective, as the injunction would only be drawn to the attention of an unauthorised encampment once they are in situ. Once on Council owned land, we must comply with its obligations, as outlined above.

If we were mindful to make such an application and it was not defended, the cost estimate in doing so is about £5,000. If however, the matter became fully contested then we estimate the costs to each party to be in the region of £20,000, if not more.

Therefore applying for a permanent injunction would not put us in any materially better position than it is at the moment and would not be a proportionate use of our resources.

Enforcement of Existing Byelaws on Churston Common

Torbay has Byelaws in place which prohibit overnight camping and the parking of vehicles onsome open spaces in Torbay.  Whilst this may appear to be a solution to remove unauthorised encampments, there are a number of considerations before this power can be utilised:

  1. Our current Byelaw in this regard came in to force before the Human Rights Act. Therefore our obligations to carry out health and welfare checks would still need to be undertaken.  This process would take between 3 and 5 days, as detailed above.
  2. To enforce such a Byelaw, we would need to employ security staff, bailiffs, towing equipment etc, and have the Police present to prevent a breach of the peace. Dependant on availability, the cost of this would likely be prohibitive and will not be a swift process to arrange.  It is likely to result in public disorder and traffic congestion whilst caravans were towed onto the adjacent highway.  Even if this was effective, there is nothing to stop the aggrieved encampment moving back on to the same site or to another location within Torbay, where further procedures would have to be invoked.

Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO)

The use of a PSPO is a discretionary power we have. The purpose of a PSPO is to remedy actual anti-social behaviour or prevent recurrence but should not be used to restrict access to land. General unauthorised encampments do not result in anti-social behavior occurring or being reported. Where such occurrences do arise, these are dealt with by the Police or the local authority. A PSPO cannot be used to restrict access to an area by a minority group who are identified as having defined characteristics under equalities legislation eg are part of the gypsy or travelling community.

Assuming a PSPO was put in place, a breach of the PSPO would not result in the removal of that encampment.  Instead enforcement of the PSPO would be by way of a Penalty Notice or prosecution through the Magistrates’ Court where the Court is likely to impose a fine.  The unauthorised encampment would however remain in situ.

As landowner, we will consider each case of an unauthorised encampment on its own merits. In doing so, it will have regard to the settled community, government guidance on managing such encampmants, relevant case law, the Human Rights Act and the best interest of the child as mandated as a primary consideration (please note that this list is not exhaustive).

In the absence of a transit or permanent site in Torbay, we will ensure that a prompt assessment of the encampment is made with relevant partner agencies.  However, it must be noted that an unauthorised encampment is not a criminal offence and any action to remove such an encampment is not a statutory duty.

Any action taken by us in this regard will be based on necessity, proportionality and prioritised against other mandatory demands for service.

Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules continues to be the most appropriate legal remedy to obtain possession of Council owned land. However, there may be circumstances where other powers are considered appropriate and proportionate. Where this is the case, we will seek to follow that course of action.