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Travellers and homelessness

This content applies to England

Local authorities' duties towards homeless Gypsies and Travellers .

Local authorities have a duty to accommodate certain homeless people under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. Some of the legislation is particularly applicable to Gypsies and Travellers. More general information on homelessness legislation is in the section on Homelessness


A person is homeless if her/his accommodation 'consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it'.[1] Case law has established that the words 'entitled' and 'permitted' have a broad meaning. For example, in one case, the applicants had parked without permission on local authority land for two and a half years. However, the authority had not taken any action against the applicants. Therefore, the court decided that they were not homeless, as the lack of action amounted to 'permission'.

Priority need

Case law has found that the correct test to be applied when determining priority need is whether the applicant is significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person if made homeless and likely to suffer greater harm as a result.[2] In one case, Travellers had argued that they were vulnerable for 'other special reasons' because, as Travellers, they were statistically more likely to be homeless than the general population, and had less chance of finding accommodation due to the lack of authorised sites. However this case failed as the judge held that the vulnerability test is about the ability of the individual to deal with homelessness, not on the likelihood of her/him remaining homeless.[3]

Homeless as a result of an emergency

An applicant will have an automatic priority need if they are homeless or threatened with homelessness due to 'an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster'.[4] The courts have held that the loss of a caravan (for example through theft) can constitute an emergency for the purposes of the legislation, and therefore lead to a finding of priority need.[5] However, in the case in question, it was decided that the applicant was already homeless because his caravan had been parked on an unauthorised site: therefore, he had no place where he was entitled to place it. As he was already homeless, he could not have become homeless through an emergency; therefore he was not in priority need.

Local connection

Travellers who have moved around the country may have difficulty in establishing a local connection. If a Traveller has no local connection with any authority s/he can apply to the authority of her/his choice and can not be referred to another authority. In any event local authorities should be encouraged to use their discretion to accept a duty towards the applicant rather than referring them to another authority's area.[6]

An applicant can have a local connection if s/he has a family association in the area.[7] 'Family' under this provision usually refers to parents, siblings and adult children who have lived in the area for five years or more, and other relatives are only considered in 'exceptional circumstances'. The importance of the extended family to many Travellers is not taken account of in this provision, and again, local authorities should be encouraged to use their discretion and to judge each case on its own merits.[8]

Social services' duties to families with children

The Children Act 1989 places a duty upon social services authorities to safeguard and promote the interests of children in need. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989[9] includes a power to provide accommodation[10] to children in need - for more information see the section on Young people and care leavers. It may be possible to argue that when Traveller families are threatened with eviction then the children are 'in need' and the whole family should be accommodated by social services under this section. Section 20 of the Act includes a duty to provide accommodation to children in need whose welfare is likely to be seriously prejudiced if the authority does not provide her/him with accommodation.[11] However this duty applies to the child only rather than the whole household. Offering to house only the children is an option,[12] but social services cannot force this unless there is clear evidence of a risk of abuse and a court order has been obtained.[13]

Travellers who are being evicted from local authority land could seek legal advice to challenge the eviction by way of judicial review on the basis that councils should take into account any obligations they owe to Travellers' children before making an order.[14] See the page on Judicial review for more information.

Provision of accommodation

When providing accommodation following a successful homeless application, local authorities must ensure that the accommodation is suitable for the needs of the applicant and her/his household.[15]

The provision of land, on which a Gypsy/Traveller would be able and willing to station her/his caravan, would be a discharge of the duty to provide suitable accommodation. However if there is no land available on which to lawfully station a caravan, the local authority can provide 'bricks and mortar' accommodation providing it satisfies the Wednesbury minimum level of suitability (ie it is a decision that is not irrational or perverse).[16] It is outside of the scope of a homelessness review into the suitability of the provision of 'bricks and mortar' accommodation to a Gypsy/Traveller family to conduct an inquiry into the adequacy of site provision and the planning policies of the authority.[17]


The information on this page applies only to England. Go to Shelter Cymru for information relating to Wales.

[1] s.175(2)(b) Housing Act 1996.

[2] Hotak v Southwark LBC : Kanu v Southwark LBC : Johnson v Solihull MBC [2015] UKSC 30.

[3] Myhill and Faith v Wealden DC [2004] EWCA Civ 224.

[4] s.189(1)(d) Housing Act 1996.

[5] Scott-Higgs v Brighton and Hove CC [2003] 3 All ER 753, CA.

[6] s.193(2) Housing Act 1996.

[7] s.199(1) Housing Act 1996.

[8] Mohammed v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC (2002) HLR 7, HL.

[9] s.17 Children Act 1989, as amended by Adoption and Children Act 2002.

[10] ss.17 and 20 Children Act 1989.

[11] s.20(3) Children Act 1989.

[12] G v Barnet LBC [2001] LAG June 2001, CA.

[13] s.44 Children Act 1989.

[14] R v Shropshire CC ex parte Hopkinson [1994] 28th September 1994.

[15] ss.206 and 210 Housing Act 1996.

[16] Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire DC, [2004] EWCA Civ 925; Sheridan and Ors v Basidon BC (formerly Basildon DC) [2012] EWCA Civ 335.

[17] Sheridan and Ors v Basidon BC (formerly Basildon DC) [2012] EWCA Civ 335.

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