Luton Borough Council
Community and living
Gypsy and traveller unauthorised encampments
Powers available to the council
Sections 77 – 78 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
The power most commonly used by the council is that under sections 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Section 77 gives us the power to direct individuals to remove their vehicles and belongings and to leave the land occupied without the consent of the occupier of the land (i.e. including land owned and / or occupied privately).
Before issuing this direction, welfare assessments must be carried out on the occupiers of the unauthorised site.
Occasionally there is a medical or other concern which means it would be inappropriate for the occupants to be moved on for example the presence of a new born child who needs to be seen by a health visitor.
Details are also taken by bailiffs on the site to determine whether there is a mechanical breakdown or other reason why the travellers should not be moved on.
A direction under s.77 can be issued immediately after we have received information regarding occupation of the site from the bailiff and the health visitor. The direction can be issued the day after the travellers arrive on site. Failure to comply with the direction or returning within 3 months is a criminal offence with a penalty of a fine of up to £1000.
The direction requires the site to be vacated immediately and if it hasn’t been complied with after 24 hours a summons will be issued for the occupants to attend court. The summons must also give the travellers a minimum of 24 hours notice. At Court an application for an order under section 78 will be made. If granted the travellers will be given 24 hours to leave the site. If they failed to do so bailiffs with tow trucks are instructed to attend the site and clear it. In many cases this process can be completed in as little as 4 days but can take much longer due to the specific circumstances of the occupiers of the encampment or available resources.
Action by police
The police have a similar power to direct encampments to move on, wherever:
- the landowner or his agent has asked the occupants to move on by a particular date and time, and they have failed to do so
- the unauthorised campers have caused damage to the land or property on the land
- the unauthorised campers have used threatening behaviour to the occupier of the land
- there are six or more vehicles on the land
In those circumstances the police may use a section 61 direction to require the occupants to vacate the land. This is done without reference to the court.
A senior officer will determine whether or not to issue the direction based on:
- whether there are other activities on the encampments, such as ASB
- whether it is reasonable and proportionate to use police powers given the impact on the environment and the local settled community
- the action by police being legally sustainable