If there is one thing more frustrating that people casually trespassing on your land, it’s those that set up camp with no intention of leaving. Unfortunately, there is lack of council-designated land for the travelling community, which means that private land is often left vulnerable to unauthorised (and unwanted) visitors. Not only is it frustrating for landowners when they find an encampment on their property, it’s actually an illegal practice that breaches both civil and criminal law.
If you are the owner or manager of a large site, whether it’s for commercial, industrial, agricultural or private use, it’s important to know how to safely and legally move these settlements on.
What is the first step to getting travellers off my land?
The first step to legally evicting travellers is simply asking them to leave. The council doesn’t have an obligation to move travellers that are non-council property – it’s up to the landowner to explain that the travellers are, in fact, on private property and they cannot stay.
You may want to enquire about why they are there and how long they are intending to stay, to help you to assess the situation. However, bear in mind that travelling communities typically face a lot of intolerance, so they may initially be guarded in conversation. If, following this discussion, you still want the travellers to leave, you must provide reasonable notice for them to pack up and go. 24 hours is usually considered sufficient.
They haven’t responded to a request to leave – what next?
If you have made it clear that you want the travellers to move on and they have taken no action within the given timeframe to do so, there are various options available to you.
All landowners have common law power (Section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act) to evict trespassers, squatters and travellers themselves. They are entitled to use reasonable force, and will need to employ Certified Enforcement Officers (bailiffs) to carry out the eviction on their behalf. The main benefit of a common law eviction is the speed at which it can be carried out, reducing the risk of property damage, theft and fly tipping and therefore reducing the potential cost of the clear up.
The alternative is to obtain a writ of possession from the County Court. If you follow this process, you will be given a claim form to complete and serve upon the travellers (either by handing it to them or posting it somewhere prominently on the land), as well as a date for a hearing. At the hearing, the judge will likely grant the eviction order immediately – although insufficient evidence may result in the hearing being adjourned. Possession is then regained using a High Court Enforcement Officer. The biggest drawback is that this process often takes 7-10 days (or longer), during which the travellers may have caused substantial damage and moved on.
How do I prevent future traveller invasion?
If you are concerned about your site being vulnerable to squatters, fly tipping or travellers, the best course of action is to keep it sufficiently secure.
Putting an anti-climb fence around the perimeter of your property will prevent casual and opportunist trespassers, and installing heavy-duty barriers at strategic points should make it impossible for vehicles to access the site, including trucks and caravans. If you are concerned about the visual effect of these, consider less-obvious measures, such as mounding or ditching (although these methods are more easily bridged).
If you have any vacant buildings on the site, it’s important that these are inaccessible to potential squatters. Ensure that windows and doors are boarded up or bolted and that any damaged and weakened sections are taken care of. Instead of conventional wooden boards, consider using metal screens that limit the building’s vulnerability to arson.
Having your land invaded by trespassers of any kind can be unsettling and frustrating, but it’s possible to act very quickly and get the problem dealt with effectively. The key is to remain level-headed and proactive wherever possible.