What is an unauthorised encampment (UE)?

An unauthorised encampment is not specific to an ethnicity – it relates to any encampment on land that hasn’t been authorised by the landowner. It is not a criminal offence.

A nomadic way of life is not illegal. It is important to remember that some groups (such as Roma, Gypsies and travellers) have lived this way for hundreds of years and it is a way of life for them.

Some UEs exist for a matter of days without notice, while others can be longer and more impactful.

What happens when an unauthorised encampment occurs?

In the first instance it is the landowner’s responsibility to resolve the issue and come to an agreement with those who have moved onto the land.

There are certain laws that can be used to move groups on who are there without permission.

When should I call the police?

Notify the police if you see a crime taking place or there is significant anti-social behaviour or disorderly conduct. The police will make an assessment whether there is a need for them to attend or not.

There are a small number of specific powers the police can use relating to a UE. Responsibility for a UE largely sits with the landowner which may be the local authority. The local authority has separate legislated powers to deal with UEs.

Officers will be made aware of a UE and support the landowner and monitor what is happening in the first instance. At this stage trespassing is a civil matter between the landowner and occupier and not a criminal offence.

What is Section 61?

Section 61 gives police the power to direct an encampment to leave once the landowner has made reasonable steps to remove the occupants, and is certain conditions are met.

These conditions are that there must be two or more trespassers on land with the common purpose of residing and

  • They have with them 6 or more vehicles, or
  • damage to the land or property on the land has been caused, or
  • used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of his family or an employee or agent of his

In addition to these conditions, the National Police Chief’s Council has set out clear guidelines before police use their powers under S61.

What’s Section 62a and why will transit sites help?

Currently there are no transit sites in the county of Surrey. Where a transit site is available in a relevant local authority area, Section 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows the police to direct the occupants of a UE to leave the land and attend the transit site.

Failure to leave is a criminal offence and additionally it makes it an offence for those persons directed to leave to set up a UE on land in that local authority area for a period of three months.

What is an injunction?

In some local authority areas around the country and in Surrey, a High Court injunction has been obtained by the relevant local authority preventing the setting up of an unauthorised encampment on land owned by them. The police have agreed protocols with those authorities to support them in enforcing the injunction.

Why can’t you run checks on tax and MOT status?

Use of police powers must always be proportionate. Where a vehicle is in use on a road and police have cause to stop it, checks are usually made on the insurance and MOT status of a vehicle and offences prosecuted.

However it is a common misconception that all persons present on an unauthorised encampment do not have tax, MOT and insurance for their vehicles. It is disproportionate to target a minority community in this way based on their lifestyle.

Why can’t you move people on for trespassing?

At this stage trespassing is not a criminal offence, and is strictly a civil matter between the landowner and those that have moved onto the land. If criminal offences are identified, then these will be dealt with.

Why can’t you arrest people when offences are reported?

If we receive reports of criminal offences, these are treated in exactly the same way as any other report. If there is sufficient evidence to identify those responsible, we will pursue them through the criminal justice system.

We are often asked why we don’t arrest all of the people on a UE as it must be one of them who committed the damage. This would be unlawful and police would investigate the report of the damage.