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Definition of Gypsies & Travellers

This content applies to England

The legal definitions of Gypsies and Travellers.

There are a number of definitions, governing different areas of law, that apply to Gypsies and Travellers.

Ethnicity

Romany Gypsies are recognised as a separate ethnic group for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 (and from before 1 October 2010 for the purposes of the Race Relations Act 1976).[1] Irish Travellers are also recognised as a separate racial group.[2] A person will be defined as a Romany Gypsy or Irish Traveller as a result of being born or marrying into a traditional Romany Gypsy or Irish Traveller family. Local authorities have a duty to eradicate unlawful discrimination and to consider the effect of any proposed policies on ethnic minorities.[3]

Gypsy status

In order to benefit from any positive Government guidance on provision for Gypsy and Travellers it is necessary for that person to have what is referred to as 'Gypsy status'.

Government's guidance for local authorities on the planning aspects of the provision of traveller sites is set out in the Planning policy for traveller sites and defines Gypsies and Travellers as:[4]

'Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family's or dependants' educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily, but excluding members of an organised group of travelling showpeople or circus people travelling together as such.'

The policy requires that when determining whether a person has Gypsy status, local planning authorities should consider:[5]

  • whether that person previously led a nomadic habit of life
  • the reasons why s/he ceased her/his nomadic habit of life
  • whether s/he has an intention of living a nomadic habit of life in the future, and if so, how soon and in what circumstances.

The original statutory definition of a Gypsy was contained in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960,[6] and is reiterated in the legislation concerning the scope of the Mobile Homes Act 1984,[7] where a Gypsy is defined as a 'person of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin'. The Court of Appeal imported into the word 'nomadic' the concept of purposeful travel (including work), economic independence and (to a degree) a tradition of travelling in cohesive groups.[8]

The local authority must,[9] when undertaking a review of housing needs in their district, carry out an assessment of the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers, where the definition that applies is:[10]

'(a) persons with a cultural tradition of nomadism or of living in a caravan; and

(b) all other persons of a nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin, including–

(i) such persons who, on grounds only of their own or their family's or dependant's educational or health needs or old age, have ceased to travel temporarily or permanently; and

(ii) members of an organised group of travelling show people or circus people (whether or not travelling together as such).'

Using the above definitions, it is possible to include New Travellers in the definition of gypsy status.[11]

Definition of a caravan

A caravan is defined as 'any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another... and any motor vehicle so designed or adapted'.[12]

For further information see the page on Definition of a mobile home.

Advice for Gypsies and Travellers

The Community Law Partnership's Travellers Advice Team (TAT) provides advice, assistance and representation to Gypsies and Travellers throughout England and Wales in the following areas:

  • evictions
  • planning
  • matters involving rented sites
  • homelessness

TAT's service includes a dedicated Gypsy and Traveller Helpline, which is available on 0121 685 8677 between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm Monday to Friday. There is also an out-of-hours emergency number solely for emergencies concerning Gypsies and Travellers, which is 07768 316755. See the Gypsy and Traveller Helpline for details.

Wales

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

[1] s.9 Equality Act 2010; Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton [1989] QB 783; [1989] 1 All ER 306, CA.

[2] O'Leary v Allied Domecq [2000], 29 August, Case no. CL 50275-79, Central London County Court (unreported); Article 5, Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 SI 1997/869.

[3] Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 (to be replaced by s.149 Equality Act 2010 from 6 April 2011).

[4] para 1 Annex 1 Planning policy for traveller sites, DCLG, August 2015.

[5] para 2 Annex 1 Planning policy for traveller sites, DCLG, August 2015.

[6] for example see Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Commencement No.8 and Transitional, Transitory and Savings Provisions) Order 2011 SI 2011/1002 (C.40).

[7] s.24(8) Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, as amended by s.80 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

[8] R v South Hams DC ex parte Gibb [1994] 3 WLR 1151, CA.

[9] s.225(1) Housing Act 2004.

[10] s.2 Housing (Assessment of Accommodation Needs) (Meaning of Gypsies and Travellers) (England) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/3190.

[11] see for example Secretary of State for the Environment v Meier [2007] Poole County Court, 3 August 2007, Legal Action October 2007.

[12] s.29 Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960.

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