Consultation over encampment crackdown powers

Home Office wants law changes to make unauthorised encampment a criminal offence.

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Where the £9bn Affordable Homes Programme makes provision for developing authorised encampment sites, Government says it’s right to consult on criminalising the unauthorised alternative.

New proposals put out for consultation include new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised caravan sites.

Currently such trespassing is defined in law as a civil matter, but the Home Office is consulting on making it a criminal offence.

Unauthorised encampments can cause misery to those who live nearby, with reports of damage to property, noise, abuse and littering,” said Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“The public want their communities protected and for the police to crack down on trespassers.

Our proposals aim to ensure these encampments can be challenged and removed as quickly as possible,” she said.

The consultation comes after a Home Office review into how trespassing while setting up an unauthorised encampment could be made a criminal offence in England and Wales – learning lessons from other countries like the Republic of Ireland.

As a result, the Home Office is proposing to broaden the categories of criminal trespass to cover trespassers who enter onto any land without permission of the occupier with the intention to reside.

As part of the consultation, the Home Office is also seeking further views from councils, police, travellers, communities and the general public on alternative measures.

Proposed amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 include:

  • Lowering the number of vehicles needed to be involved in an unauthorised camp before police can act from 6 to 2
  • Giving the police powers to direct offenders to sites in neighbouring local authorities. Currently they can only direct trespassers to sites in the same area
  • Allowing officers to remove trespassers from camping on or beside a road
  • Increasing the time – from 3 months to a year – during which offenders are not allowed to return to a site they have already been removed from

Responses to an initial consultation on the amendments, launched in April 2018, were clear that problems are caused for communities and business across the country by unauthorised encampments.

Councils have since been reminded of their existing obligation to provide enough “transit sites”, which provide travellers with a place to stay short-term and prevent problems from being shifted to neighbouring areas.

MHCLG has made nearly £2m available to councils to crack down on illegal developments, with funding also available under the £9bn Affordable Homes Programme to help develop authorised sites.

In June this year the government announced MHCLG will lead development of a cross-government strategy to improve outcomes for travellers.

 

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