Today, I am announcing the government’s response to the November 2019 consultation entitled, ‘Strengthening Police Powers to Tackle Unauthorised Encampments.’ The consultation sought views on how to address and prevent the harm and distress caused by some unauthorised encampments and followed a public consultation in 2018 which demonstrated support for more police action.
The vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens. As of January 2020, the number of lawful traveller sites increased by 41% from January 2010. However, there continues to be unauthorised encampments that can create significant challenges for local authorities and cause distress and misery to many. Harmful or disruptive encampments can also perpetuate a negative image of travelling communities.
I will therefore introduce legislation to increase the powers available to the police in England and Wales. As we pledged in our Manifesto, we will create a new criminal offence to tackle unauthorised encampments. In addition, we will give the police the power to seize vehicles, and we will strengthen existing powers.
The measures complement the ongoing work by MHCLG to strengthen councils’ powers to tackle unauthorised developments (building on land that an occupier owns without planning permission).
Introduce a criminal offence of residing on land with a vehicle, causing damage, disruption or distress
A person will commit an offence if they
- Are aged 18 or over and reside or intend to reside on land without the consent of the occupier of the land;
- Have or intend to have at least one vehicle with them on the land;
- Have caused or are likely to cause significant damage, disruption or distress; and
o fail, without a reasonable excuse, to leave the land with their vehicle and/or property once asked to do so by the occupier, representatives of the occupier or a constable; or
o They, without reasonable excuse, enter, or re-enter the land with an intention of residing there without the consent of the occupier, and they have or intend to have a vehicle with them, within 12 months of a request to leave and remove their property from an occupier, their representative or a constable.
Give police the power to seize any property including vehicles from those committing the new offence
The police will be empowered to seize any property including vehicles owned or in the possession of the individual on the land if they reasonably suspect that the person has committed the above offence.
Strengthen existing powers
Section 61(1)(a) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (“CJPOA”) sets out the power of the police to direct trespassers away from land. We will amend this section to enable the police to direct trespassers away in a broader range of circumstances, including if there is damage to the environment, such as excessive noise, litter or deposits of waste, and if there is disruption to supplies of water, energy or fuel.
We also intend to increase the period in which persons directed away from the land under section 61 and 62A of the CJPOA must not return (without reasonable excuse) without committing an offence or being subject to powers of seizure from three months to twelve by amending sections 61(4)(b) 62B(2) and s.62C(2)of the CJPOA..
We will in addition strengthen measures to tackle unauthorised encampments on roads by amending section 61(9)(b) to allow police to direct trespassers to leave land that forms part of a highway.
I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to the two consultations carried out by the government on this issue. The views expressed in response have all been considered and have informed the decisions we have made.
The measures I intend to introduce are a proportionate increase in powers for the police. I hope they will deter unauthorised encampments from being set up in the first instance but, where that is not the case, they will allow the police to take more effective action in response to an encampment causing damage, disruption or distress, in support of those communities living with or near them.
I am confident that we have taken steps to ensure those wishing to exercise their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted by these measures.
The response to the consultation will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will also be available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-police-powers-to-tackle-unauthorised-encampments
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords