Unauthorised encampments

The Council's aim is to ensure all its residents, whether living in settled or transitory communities, are treated equally and with respect. It recognises that this has to be balanced with the rights of Gypsies and Travellers, the public's right to enjoy private and public land and the rights of those people on whose land unauthorised camping takes place.

These FAQs explain how the Council and other agencies will work to try to balance the rights of all those involved where unauthorised camping takes place.

Council land

When might the Council decide it appropriate to exercise its enforcement powers?

If people are camped on Council land without consent, the Council can give a direction and obtain a Court Order requiring their removal from the Council's land by applying to the local Magistrates Court using its powers under sections 77-78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The Council will consider each case on its merits. In all cases the site is visited and every effort is made to make sure the site is kept tidy.

If they are on land at the side of a road the Council will report the matter to Surrey County Council for action.

Can the Council remove anyone unlawfully camping from Council land immediately?

No. The Council cannot remove anyone prior to obtaining the necessary Court Order empowering them to do so.

How long will it take for anyone unlawfully camping to be removed?

This will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The Council will need to consider the issues outlined above as well as how soon they can obtain a Court hearing date.

What are the Council doing to protect our parks and open spaces from encampments?

Whilst it is not possible to make a site completely invulnerable, the vast majority of the Council's parks and open spaces are protected by a combination of fences, padlocked gates, height barriers and bollards and some have ditches too.   

I'm aware of the Council's Injunction obtained in 2017. Is it still in force, what does it do and how is it enforced?

Further to a number of unlawful encampments on Council land (parks and playing fields) over the summer of 2017, a High Court Injunction was obtained that applies to the Council's public green space and associated car parks - over 100 sites in total across the borough.

This Injunction remains in force against 23 named Defendants but from 9 December 2020, it no longer applies against 'persons unknown'.

When can the Police move them on?

The Police may activate their powers under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to require an encampment to leave.

The Police are able to activate these powers where they are satisfied that two or more people are trespassing on the land, and the landowner has taken reasonable steps to make them leave (and they have failed to do so). In addition, one of the following also has to apply

  • damage has been caused to the land or property, or
  • threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour has been used against the occupier, his family or agent, or
  • the trespassers have six or more vehicles on the land

The police can use Section 61 of the CJPOA to direct unauthorised campers to leave the site. They can do this without reference to the courts. If the unauthorised campers fail to leave by the date and time specified by the police officer, or return to that location within three months of the direction, they are then committing an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding £2,500. Further, if a direction issued under Section 61 is contravened, a police officer may then seize and remove the vehicles under Section 62 of the CJPOA. Vehicles would be impounded in an appropriate police facility with a fee payable for their return.

Surrey Police has its own Policy, in accordance with NPCC National Guidance, for dealing with unauthorised encampments that states

1.5 The presence of an encampment alone, although unwanted with no aggravating factors will not trigger police action to remove the encampment.

2.1 Section 61 provides a discretionary power for Police to direct the removal of persons and their vehicles from the specific piece of land where they are trespassing, providing certain pre-conditions are met.

2.2 It is a power that can only be used in certain circumstances and its use is not always effective

5.4 The Duty Officer must identify if there are any 'significant impact factors' that could lead to the use of police powers for an immediate eviction from the site. These are recorded in the NPCC National guidance and are

a) Local amenities are deprived to communities or significant impact on the environment

b) There is local disruption to the economy...

c) There is other significant disruption to local community or environment...

d) There is a danger to life...

e) There is a need to take preventative action

Are there any authorised sites in Surrey?

Yes. Surrey County Council owns 17 permanent Gypsy and Traveller Caravan sites across the County

Who do I complain to about unauthorised encampments?

The Council's Customer Services Team is the first point of contact for complaints about unauthorised encampments which occur on Council land. They can be contacted by calling 01932 838383. We are unable to take reports of unauthorised encampments which occur on Private land.

Where the matter occurs outside of business hours incidents can be reported via the Council's website using a form which will then be picked up during office hours. Again, reports submitted online should be for incidents on Council land. If the land is private, please see above information on the steps you can take.

Report park problems

If encampments occur on land owned by the unlawful occupiers, the Council's Planning Enforcement Team should be contacted. Once logged, the appropriate Council team will investigate the complaint and instigate legal action, where appropriate.

Private land

Does the Council's enforcement powers apply to private land?

No. The Council cannot take action if travellers are on privately owned land. If they are on private land, it is usually the landowner's responsibility.

Does the Council have a duty to move people when they are camped without the landowner's permission?

No. The enforcement powers given to councils are discretionary and can only be used where certain conditions exist and further to following due process.

Councils have an obligation to carry out welfare assessments on unauthorised campers to identify any welfare issues that need to be addressed, before taking enforcement action against them.

What can I do if unauthorised encampments occur on my land?

Firstly, talk to people on your land to try to agree a leaving date.

If you are not willing to tolerate the encampment any longer, you or your solicitor can go to the nearest County Court and obtain an Order granting you possession of your land.

Further details can be obtained from the County Court.

What happens if anyone unlawfully occupies their own land without planning permission?

Where Gypsies and Travellers purchase land and occupy it without planning permission, whilst this is not in itself a criminal offence, the Local Planning Authority will consider what enforcement action is appropriate, such as service of an appropriate Planning Enforcement Notice and/or a High Court Injunction seeking to forbid them from residing on the land and cease any further development of the land.

 Gypsies and Travellers are therefore advised to undertake pre-application discussion with the Council (acting as the Local Planning Authority) in advance of occupying any land that they may wish to propose be granted planning permission as a permanent site.