Parking on unauthorised sites

This page explains what the law says about Gypsies/Travellers staying on an unauthorised site.

Which sites are unauthorised?

Unauthorised sites or encampments are sites which are not licensed, don't have planning permission or the permission of the landowner.

Gypsies/Travellers usually set up these sites on unused land, for example on wasteland or at the roadside. Some councils may unofficially set aside areas of waste ground to be used as unauthorised sites.

Laws on where to park vehicles and caravans

There are several laws governing where you can and can't park vehicles and caravans. For example, it is an offence to park on:

  • a road or verge or in a layby in a way that obstructs or could be a danger to other users of the road
  • enclosed plantations or cultivated land (for example, farm land or land owned by the Forestry Commission)

It is also normally unlawful to move onto land which does not have planning permission to be used for stationing caravans.

Staying on an unauthorised site if it is council-owned land

If you park your vehicle and/or caravan in an unauthorised area that is council-owned land, a representative from the council, such as a council site manager or Gypsy/Traveller liaison officer, will visit the site to talk to you. They will assess the situation and see whether you'll be able to stay there. If there are free places in the council's official site, they may suggest you move there.

When deciding whether or not to move you on, the council should consider:

  • how many vehicles you have for the size of the area you're parked on
  • how long you're planning on staying
  • any welfare needs you have (for example, whether any one of your household is ill, elderly or pregnant and would be at risk if you had to move on)
  • road safety (for example, whether your camp is obstructing traffic)
  • other safety issues (for example, if the site is near a railway line or in a polluted area it won't be safe for you to stay there)
  • what the land is normally used for and whether it's needed in the near future (for example, it's unlikely you'll be allowed to park on playing fields or land that is being developed)
  • any potential damage to the land
  • the effect on the local community

If you are staying on council-owned land, you should:

  • look after the land you're camped on
  • make sure you don't cause any fire risks
  • dispose of any rubbish responsibly
  • keep any animals under control
  • respect the rights and way of life of others in the area

In some cases, the council may agree on a leaving date with you, and will take eviction action if you don't move by that date.

Does the council provide any facilities?

The council may provide minimal facilities for you, such as portaloos and bin bags for your rubbish, although not all councils do this. You will probably be charged a small fee for these facilities.

If the council doesn't provide any of these services, it may be possible to argue that they should, in the interests of public health. An adviser at a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice may be able to help you negotiate with the council. Use our directory to find a local adviser.

The site manager or Gypsy/Traveller liaison officer may also be able to help you access community services, for example, local schools, doctors' surgeries, social work services and benefits advice, and should be able to help you if you experience harassment or antisocial behaviour from members of the local settled community.

Rights on an unauthorised site

If the council decides that your presence on the land is causing problems, they can direct you to leave an unauthorised site and to take any vehicles with you. It is an offence to return to the land after a direction to leave.

Parking a vehicle and/or caravan on land not owned by the council

If you park your vehicle and/or caravan on private land without permission, this is trespassing. If the owner finds out that you're camped on their land, they have the right to go to court or call in the council to remove you. Read the page on eviction from private land to find out more.

The owner may choose not to take action if your camp isn't causing any problems for them. However, if other people in the area complain about your site, the council or police may take action instead. The pages on eviction by the council and eviction by the police have more information.

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