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Gypsies and Travellers

Gypsies and Travellers and unauthorised encampments

Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognised racial groups under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and to show respect as with other ethnic groups a capital G and should be used when describing Gypsies and Travellers.

The term Tinkers should not be used to describe Gypsies and Travellers.

A Brief History

Gypsies have been a part of our society for many hundreds of years. They were originally believed to be Egyptians, which is where the name ‘Gypsy’ comes from, however they do in fact originate from India.

Romany people have lived in England for over 500 years and the Irish Travelling Community about 150 years. The first authenticated record of their presence in Britain was in 1501 in Scotland. Today there are between 250,000 and 300,000 traditional Travellers estimated to be living in Great Britain.

Their way of life means that they travel the country staying for various periods of time in different locations, in order to earn a living. This has been their way of life for many generations. Race relations legislation recognises Gypsies and Travellers as specific racial groups, i.e. Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers. This means that they have a right to live a nomadic life style.

Gypsies and Travellers are protected from discrimination by the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Human Rights Act 1998. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a duty on public authorities, including Flintshire County Council to promote race equality for all racial groups. The Council will work with other statutory agencies to try to balance the rights of both Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What legislation relates to Gypsies and Travellers and the management of unauthorised encampments?

The main legislation affecting Gypsies and Travellers and unauthorised encampments are the Human Rights and Race Relations Acts and Sections 61, 62, 62A-E, 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

 

What can I do if there is an unauthorised encampment on my land?You can:
  • talk to them to see if they are prepared to leave on an agreed date, or
  • take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedures Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for their eviction.

Surely Travellers are breaking the law. Why don't we just evict them straight away?

The Government Guidelines for dealing with Unauthorised encampments states that "Unauthorised camping is not a criminal offence and (the Government has) no plans make it so". Trespass is a civil matter. The law provides landowners and local authorities with the right to repossess their property.

But they have broken in and damaged property - surely that is a criminal offence and they should be evicted?

No. Breaking in and damaging property are criminal offences. If the Police were able to attribute the damage to one or more individuals they could be prosecuted through the Courts but their punishment would not be eviction. 

Why not?

While a person could be fined or imprisoned for criminal damage, it would not be reasonable to impound their home, prevent their legal employment or disrupt the education of their children.

What if the landowner decides to let them stay?

The Government encourages toleration of unauthorised encampments when no nuisance or anti-social behaviour is occurring. However, unauthorised encampments may be in breach of planning or other regulations.

Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission for a caravan site or the Gypsies/Travellers are helping with fruit picking, etc, then the landowner could be in breach of the Planning Acts. The Council could then take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the illegal encampment.

In the first instance call Flintshire County Council Planning Department for guidance.

Do the Council or Police have a duty to move unauthorised encampments when they are on the Council's land?

If a unauthorised encampments is on Council land, the Council has a POWER not a DUTY to move them on. They may only evict them after taking into account the Human Rights Act. Failure to comply could mean that the Council and Police officers are liable to challenge by the courts. This could prove to be costly and could result in longer stays.

A Protocol is being developed between North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council to make sure that we respond to encampments in a consistent manner.

What is the procedure for eviction on local authority land?

We operate a balanced and fair approach towards unauthorised sites. The site will be visited and an assessment will be made. This will include looking at the level of disruption to the local community and obstruction to rights of way. We also need to take into account whether there are any welfare considerations. If there is little nuisance there may be a decision to leave the unauthorised encampment in place for a short period of time in line with Government advice.

Can the Council remove Gypsies/Travellers from their land immediately?

No. The Council must:

  • show that the Gypsies/Travellers are on the land without consent,
  • make enquiries regarding the general health, welfare and children’s education,
  • ensure the Human Rights Act 1998 has been fully complied with, and
  • follow the correct procedure to successfully obtain the necessary authority from the Courts to evict the Gypsies/Travellers.

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 the Gypsies / Travellers. We must try to find out this information before going to court

I've heard that the Police won't investigate reports of criminal activity on unauthorised encampments?

The police try to be firm and fair, and while proven wrong doing is punished they cannot act against unproven allegations or assumptions. The Police will deal with crime when there is a complaint and evidence to support it. In order to investigate criminal activity, written evidence from witnesses must be provided to Police.

If you witness unlawful and anti-social behaviour report it to the Police. If you need Police assistance in an emergency, you should always dial 999. For non-urgent calls to North Wales Police please telephone 101.

You may also visit the North Wales Police website (new window)

Alternatively call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or visit Crimestoppers UK..

Nuisance can be reported to the local authority Environmental Health department or the Police

The standards of behaviour expected of Travellers should be the same as those expected of the settled community. We want to know when there is genuine nuisance and will deal with it as best we can, we ask complainants to take a balanced view. We often receive complaints about the mere presence of Travellers with no evidence of any nuisance at all.

What about the rubbish left by some unauthorised encampments?

Unauthorised encampments on the side of the road or on Council land will be visited and every effort made to try and keep the site tidy.

Whilst unauthorised encampments are obliged to keep any site tidy, private landowners are responsible for the removal of waste from their land.

Certain waste requires special treatment. If in doubt, contact the Environment Agency Hotline on 0800 807060 or Environmental Health 01352 703404.

What about Gypsies/Travellers who buy their own land and set up home on that?

Gypsies and Travellers need to gain planning consent for such a site just like anyone else.

What should I do if I see a Gypsy/Traveller encampment?

You can report a new encampment by calling 01352 703020.

You should be able to give precise details on the location of the encampment to allow officers to visit without delay.

Can't you stop illegal encampments occurring in the first place?

Travellers have a right to lead a nomadic lifestyle but there aren’t enough authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers. In addition many traditional stopping places have now been protected to discourage and prevent Travellers from setting up camps. This means that Travellers are forced to camp wherever they can and set up illegal encampments in areas which are more conspicuous and inappropriate. They are also more likely to stay longer if they have limited places where they can stay.

This results in a vicious cycle of setting up an authorised site – serving an eviction notice – moving on and setting up another unauthorised camp else where.

I pay Council tax but these people don’t pay anything!

This is a common misconception. Gypsies and Travellers don't pay Council tax on unauthorised camping sites but many people in houses get Council tax relief, housing benefit etc. Gypsies and Travellers may also find it difficult to access the services the rest of us use with comparative ease. They experience problems with accessing medical and dental care, refuse collection, postal deliveries, children's education and steady employment.

Many Travellers are employed and pay tax under the PAYE system and of course VAT is charged on everything they, and we, buy.

Many of the Gypsy Travellers who arrive seasonally, for short periods, are little different from holiday makers in that they have houses or permanent pitches elsewhere in the country. They will be paying rates, rent or mortgage payments at these other locations.

 


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