This guidance provides information to private landowners about what to do if an unauthorised encampment is set up on your land without your permission.
Legislation surrounding unauthorised encampments is complex and this guide must not be taken as legal advice. Our intention is to outline some key considerations about the process.
It is recommended that anyone considering action to take back control of land, will need to seek their own independent legal advice from a suitably qualified legal professional.
Landowners should consider the use of an agent to act on their behalf, this could be a bailiff, solicitor or process server. It is the landowner’s responsibility to decide what action to take, if they find that an unauthorised encampment is set up on their land.
Whilst it is the landowners responsibility to remove the encampment, we are available for local signposting.
Contact our Environment and Community Protection Team on 0300 123 2224.
What can you do
There are two courses of action you can take as a landowner:
Serve a Common Law Notice
All landowners can use their common law rights to recover land (the offence or tort of trespass against property)
When exercising common law rights, you must consider the following:
- That you have the right to remove such an unauthorised encampment.
- In order to evict the occupants of an unauthorised encampment they must be served with a Common Law Notice requiring them to leave by a specific date and time. This can be done by the landowner or agent working on behalf of the landowner.
- The law says that any trespasser who enters land peaceably is entitled to a request to leave the land before being removed by reasonable force. This means that before taking any action, it is advisable to organise a discussion with occupants of the unauthorised encampment as part of serving the Common Law Notice to determine if an agreement can be reached.
- A trespasser who has entered land by force, violence or by causing damage to property may be removed without a previous request to vacate. This means that the landowner may seek to remove an individual(s) without providing a notice period when serving the Common Law Notice, however before such action is taken it is suggested that specific independent legal advice from a suitably qualified legal professional is sought in this regard.
- If a trespasser refuses to leave, after being requested to do so, the landowner or their agent may use only so much force as is reasonably necessary to evict them, however before such action is taken it is suggested that specific independent legal advice from a suitably qualified legal professional is sought in this regard.
Things to be aware of when serving a Common Law Notice
It is strongly recommended that if you are considering exercising common law rights that you inform the police and ask for assistance to prevent a breach of the peace. Some points you should also consider include:
- Once the Notice period is complete, if the unauthorised encampment remains you can instruct private bailiffs to remove the encampment without need for further notification.
- As the landowner you are responsible for instructions to private bailiffs as well as their costs.
- Serving a Common Law Notice and use of bailiffs does not stop individuals returning and setting up the unauthorised encampment again once they have been evicted.
- As the landowner you are responsible for immediately restricting access to the land trespassed upon to minimise the risk of further incursions.
- During the eviction only “reasonable force” may be used. As the landowner you must be aware that use of “excessive force” can give rise to a claim against you, even if you have employed a bailiff to carry out the eviction.
- If the land includes any buildings or land ancillary to those buildings be mindful if any force or violence is used to gain entry you may be at risk of an offence under of the Criminal Law Act 1977, section 6.
Apply to the Courts for a possession order under Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules to remove the trespassers
As the landowner you can apply to the County Court to gain possession of your land back from individuals who have set up an unauthorised encampment. This procedure cannot be used to remove a tenant or sub-tenant from a tenancy arrangement
The process for this is set out in Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules and Practice Directions. It is recommended that you seek legal advice before taking any action. The following are key points about the process:
- As landowner making a Court application you must follow the set process under part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
- As the landowner it is you or your agents’ responsibility to serve notice to the unauthorised encampment which specifies a date when they must leave. This could be immediately, within 24 hours of that date or any other reasonable time frame.
- You as landowner will be responsible for preparing all aspects of the Possession Order to Court which will include preparing documents for submission at the County and/or High Court, the hearing and service of the relevant documents.
- You or your agent can serve the Possession Order Documents by posting them on the caravan(s) and/nearby structures or by handing it to the unauthorised encampment residents. The information to provide will depend on the point in the process you are. However all documents served on the Court must also be served on the unauthorised encampment residents. A Court summons and the full claim must be served on the encampment residents at least 2 clear days before the hearing in the case of occupied land.
- You as the landowner or your agent must provide a statement of service to the Court, setting out how the service was affected, and which documents have been served to residents in the unauthorised encampment. This is to satisfy the Court that you have complied with CPR and Practice Directions and provided notice and the correct information to those facing eviction.
- If the court determines that you are entitled to possession it will usually grant the order straight away.
- If the land is not vacated by the date specified within the Court Order, you can apply to Court for a warrant of possession and a bailiff’s appointment in order to progress with the eviction and remove the occupants.
Things to be aware of when seeking a Possession Order under Civil Procedure Rules
It is strongly recommended that if you are considering seeking a Possession Order that you gain legal advice prior to undertaking action. Some points you should consider include:
- As the landowner you will be responsible for paying court fees as part of the application.
- If the same unauthorised encampment comes back after enforcement to evict them, you can seek to enforce the original order without issuing a fresh possession claim provided that there is a sufficient link between the first and second occupancy (it is the same occupants who have failed to move).
- If a different unauthorised encampment is set up on your land the point above will not apply, and the process will have to be started again.
- Should the possession order be ignored, it can take time to get an appointment with a court bailiff to execute the warrant.
Tolerance or permission to remain by a private landowner
If a private landowner decides to tolerate or permit an unauthorised encampment, then you should first seek legal advice to ensure you do not contravene planning or other legislation.
The police may visit sites reported to them and make an assessment. In certain circumstances, for example, where the encampment has with them six or more vehicles, officers may use their powers to move them on, but it will depend on individual circumstances.
Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers is the responsibility of the landowner.
How you can protect your land
Any steps necessary for the removal of unauthorised encampments on private land are the responsibility of the landowner.
An unlawful incursion onto your land can be a substantial nuisance, interfering with its normal usage, but it can also be costly. As well as the legal costs of removal landowners may incur costs in clearing any waste left behind. The site protection measures described here are not exhaustive and will not guarantee unauthorised access is prevented, but they will make your land less inviting to trespass. Do remember to consider planning regulations and environmental issues before implementing measures and to ensure measures affect only your land and not that of neighbours or the highway. You should first seek legal advice to ensure you do not contravene planning or other legislation.
Review your vulnerability
First, have a good look at the perimeter of your land and with a critical eye consider how you would go about getting onto it with a vehicle and trailer. Do not forget trespassers have been known in the past to remove ineffective barriers and to bridge gaps.
Mounds are formed using rubble or hard-core as a base finished with topsoil then planted or grassed. These can add to your landscaping and do not need to be ugly. Strategically placed they can prevent access to a perimeter, infill gaps between trees and other obstacles and can border gating which protects but preserves your
This method can be combined with mounding with the spoil being used for the mounds. Remember to consider drainage implications. Bear in mind also that ditches
can and have been bridged, they can however be effective in filling gaps in your perimeter.
There are many fencing options on the market to choose from. Steel palisade fencing is amongst the most effective, but costs may well be a factor. Wooden fencing is more pleasing to the eye, but it can be more vulnerable to damage. The spacing of posts should take into account the width of vehicles that may attempt access. It is recommended that you speak to fencing specialists regarding the purpose of the intended fence.
There are a wide variety of obstacles that can be used; they can be effective in plugging gaps in an otherwise secure perimeter where authorised access is not required. They should be of such a nature that they cannot be readily moved even with towing equipment. These can be a cheap option utilising such things as concrete filled tyre stacks however these can be unsightly, large tree trunks or boulders can be more sympathetic. You should make sure that what you choose does not detrimentally affect the visual amenity of the area otherwise you could end up being required to remove or alter them.
You can protect your own authorised access points with strong robust gates, preferably metal. Remember to use toughened steel padlocks and ‘boxing in’ the padlock housing helps to prevent them being forced using angle grinders. Remember also to ensure the gate cannot simply be lifted off at the hinge end.
These are usually combined with gates and can be fixed or swing and padlocked to facilitate authorised access. Again, toughened steel padlocks boxed in are advisable for a swinging barrier. The height should be configured to deter the average caravan trailer.