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Gypsies and travellers

Residents sometimes ask why Horsham District Council and the police do not evict Gypsies and Travellers as soon as they arrive on a public open space.

Here are some frequently asked questions which we hope will explain why.

What rights do people have?

Everyone has rights - including Gypsies/Travellers, the landowner of where the unauthorised camping takes place and the local community.

Gypsies and Travellers are protected from discrimination by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1998, along with all ethnic groups who have a particular culture, language or values.

Does Horsham District Council have a duty to move Gypsies/Travellers when they are camped without the landowner's permission?

No. If Gypsies/Travellers are camped on Horsham District Council land, the council can evict them. If they are on private land (including land owned by Parish Councils), it is usually the landowner's responsibility. If a landowner allowing an encampment is in breach of any planning or license requirements, then the council can take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the illegal encampment.

Can Horsham District Council remove Gypsies/Travellers from council land immediately?

No, the council must:

  • Show that the Gypsies/Travellers are on the land without consent.
  • Make enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the group and children's education.
  • Ensure that the Human Rights Act 1998 has been fully complied with.
  • Follow a set procedure which involves proving ownership of the land, giving details of the illegal encampment, serving notices and summonses in order to successfully obtain a court order to evict the Gypsies/Travellers from the site.

This work is done by West Sussex County Council on our behalf. Unauthorised encampments on Horsham District Council land have to be dealt with as a civil matter. The police will only take action if serious criminal activity, public disorder or disruption to the local community takes place.

How long will it take for the Gypsies/Travellers to be removed?

This will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. The council needs to take account of the above issues as well as how soon they can obtain a County Court hearing date. West Sussex County Council liaise with the County Court on the council’s behalf.

Can Horsham District Council get a Court Order to cover the whole of the District?

No. The council can only ask for the Gypsies/Travellers to be moved from the site they are currently on.

Can the Court refuse to grant the council an Order to move Gypsies/Travellers on?

Yes, if there is an unavoidable reason for the Gypsies/Travellers to stay on the site or if the court believes that the council has failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of them. The council must try to find out this information before asking West Sussex County Council to approach the Court.

Who should residents and businesses contact if they witness anti-social behaviour relating to the unauthorised encampment?

Reports of ASB should be reported to the police on 101, unless it is an emergency, in which case people should call 999.

If Gypsies/Travellers camp on private land, what can the landowner do?

If Gypsies/Travellers are on private land, it is usually the landowner's responsibility to take the necessary action to evict them. The landowner can attempt to agree a leaving date with the Gypsies/Travellers or take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for their eviction.

If the landowner fails to take appropriate action to remove the Gypsies/Travellers, what will the council do?

Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission for a caravan site the landowner may be in breach of the Planning Acts and the Acts dealing with the licensing of caravan sites. In this case the council may take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the illegal encampment.

Are the Gypsies/Travellers entitled to claim assistance as 'homeless persons'?

Like every other person in the Horsham District, Gypsies/Travellers are entitled to apply for housing assistance from the council. If the criteria laid out in the Housing Act 1996 are met, the council must provide temporary accommodation. The way in which the temporary accommodation is provided is assessed for each case.

What can the police do?

The police will visit the site and in certain circumstances may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers will only be used in situations of serious criminality or public disorder. It is for the police alone to decide if Section 61 is to be used.

The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime. Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner and not the police. The police will investigate criminal and public disorder.