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Unauthorised sites for Gypsies/Travellers

If you are unable or unwilling to get a pitch in a council or private site, you may need to set up camp on another piece of land. This page explains your rights if you're staying on an unauthorised site.

What is an unauthorised site?

Unauthorised sites or encampments are sites which aren't licensed, don't have planning permission and aren't run by the council. Gypsies/Travellers usually set up these sites on unused land, for example on wasteland or at the roadside, or on the shores of the sea or a loch. Some councils may unofficially set aside areas of waste ground to be used as unauthorised sites.

You may need to stay in an unauthorised site if:

  • there aren't any places available in council or private sites
  • there are no authorised sites in the area at all
  • you're waiting for a pitch to become free on a council site
  • you don't want to stay in a council site
  • there isn't room for your whole group on a council or private site and you don't want to split up
  • you only want to park up briefly.

Where can I park up?

There are lots of laws governing where you can and can't park vehicles and caravans. For example, it is an offence to park:

  • on a road or verge or in a layby in a way that obstructs or could be a danger to other users of the road
  • on enclosed plantations or cultivated land (for example, farm land or land owned by the Forestry Commission)
  • on private land without the consent of the owner or legal occupier (see 'what if I park on land that isn't owned by the council' below).

Will the council let me stay on an unauthorised site?

If you park up in an unauthorised area, a representative from the council, such as a council site manager or Gypsy/Traveller liaison officer, will visit the site to talk to you, assess the situation and see whether you'll be able to stay on. If there are free places in the council's official site, they may suggest you move there.

When deciding whether or not to move you on, the council should consider:

  • how many vehicles you have for the size of the area you're parked on
  • how long you're planning on staying
  • any welfare needs you have (for example, whether any one in your household is ill, elderly or pregnant and would be at risk if you had to move on)
  • road safety (for example, whether your camp is obstructing traffic)
  • other safety issues (for example, if the site is near a railway line or in a polluted area it won't be safe for you to stay there)
  • what the land is normally used for and whether it's needed in the near future (for example, it's unlikely you'll be allowed to park on playing fields or land that is being developed)
  • any potential damage to the land
  • the effect on the local community.

In general, you shouldn't be moved on from council-owned land, provided that it's safe for you to be there, the land isn't used or needed for anything else and you:

  • look after the land you're camped on
  • make sure you don't cause any fire risks
  • dispose of any rubbish responsibly
  • keep any animals under control
  • respect the rights and way of life of others in the area.

In some cases, the council may agree on a leaving date with you, and will take eviction action if you don't move by that date.

Will the council provide any facilities?

The council may provide minimal facilities for you, such as portaloos and bin bags for your rubbish, although not all do. You will probably be charged a small fee for these facilities.

If the council doesn't provide any of these services, it may be possible to argue that they should, in the interests of public health - an adviser at a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice may be able to help you negotiate with the council.

The site manager or Gypsy/Traveller liaison officer may also be able to help you access community services, for example, local schools, doctors' surgeries, social work services and benefits advice, and should be able to help you if you experience harassment or antisocial behaviour from members of the local settled community.

What are my rights on an unauthorised site?

If the council decides that your presence on the land is causing serious problems, they can evict you from an unauthorised site fairly easily, provided they own the land it's set up on. The page on eviction by the council explains more.

What if I park up on land that isn't owned by the council?

If you park up on private land without permission, this is trespassing. If the owner finds out that you're camped on their land, they have the right to go to court or call in the council to remove you. Read the page on eviction from private land to find out more.

The owner may choose not to take action if your camp isn't causing any problems for them. However, if other people in the area complain about your site, the council or police may take action instead. The pages on eviction by the council and eviction by the police have more information.

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