Gypsies and Travellers in Surrey

Surrey County Council owns 17 permanent Gypsy and Traveller Caravan sites across the County.

There are also many private sites in Surrey; these are sites that have been developed by individuals on private land with the appropriate planning permission.

Surrey also has a number of unauthorised developments; these are developments on private land without the appropriate permission and are subject to the relevant planning laws.

Occasionally there are unauthorised encampments (UEs) in Surrey. This is where land is occupied without the landowner's consent. It is the responsibility of the landowner to evict.

Frequently asked questions:

Do authorities have a duty to move on unauthorised encampments on private land?

If an unauthorised encampment is on private land it is primarily the landowners' responsibility to deal with the eviction. The County, Borough and District Councils will offer advice if asked by the landowner. The police will of course tackle all reports of crime (but not trespass) when they are reported.

Do the Council or the Police have a duty to move unauthorised encampments when they are on the Council's land?

If an unauthorised encampment is on Council land, that Council has a powers not a duty to move them on and they may only evict them subject to complying with Human Rights legislation and other procedures. Failure to comply would render the Council and Police officers liable to challenge in the courts, potentially proving costly and quite probably resulting in a lengthy stay for the encampment.

Surrey County Council, the 11 boroughs/districts of Surrey and Police have produced a protocol to maintain an acceptable and consistent approach on dealing with unauthorised encampments.

How are unauthorised encampments managed on County Council land?

The site is visited as a matter of urgency. Checks are made on the tidiness of the site, the level of disruption to local residents/businesses and an assessment of any obstruction of highways or public right of way, as well as any activity the Police or others may have had reported to them.

As a legal requirement we also take into account whether there are any humanitarian or welfare considerations. If the campers are behaving in an appropriate manner and the site is being kept tidy and other circumstances allow, unauthorised encampments (UEs) may be tolerated for a short time in line with Government advice. If the evidence does not support there is a presumption towards eviction. If the decision is taken to evict we usually seek to negotiate a mutually acceptable deadline for the site to be vacated. This usually works and is normally quicker and less costly than taking formal legal action.

If that fails there are powers that the police and local authorities can use (see question below). These are subject to Human Rights Act and Race Relations Act considerations, and can be challenged in court.

Any attempt to move an UE without following relevant procedures may seem quicker, but it could lead to lengthy court actions, considerable cost and public criticism of the actions taken.

Race equality considerations

Race relations legislation recognises Gypsies and Travellers as specific racial groups, i.e. Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers, and those other Gypsies and Travellers who are of ethnic or national origin and come within the definition of a racial group within the legislation, for example Scottish Travellers. The legislation places a duty on public authorities, including Surrey County Council, to promote race equality.

What about criminal activity associated with some unauthorised encampments?

Police will deal with crime when there is a complaint and evidence to support it

In order to investigate criminal activity, written evidence from witnesses must be provided to Police and an agreement to support any subsequent prosecution. The government does not allow for the toleration of anti-social or criminal behaviour. Such behaviour actually speeds up the processes of the Police and the Councils in using their powers.

If you witness racist, unlawful and/or anti-social behaviour against or committed by the Gypsies/Travellers report it to the Police. Alternatively visit the Crimestoppers website or call them on: 0800 555111 Nuisance may also be reported to the Borough/District Council Environmental Health Department. Make a note of the name of the person you speak with along with any reference number and date and time of your call.

What about Gypsies/Travellers who buy their own land and set up home on that?

Gypsies and Travellers need to gain planning consent for such a site just like anyone else. If they do not then the site is classed as an Unauthorised Development and the local planning authority will deal with it under the normal planning powers available to it.

What about the rubbish left by some unauthorised encampments?

Unauthorised encampments on the side of the road or on Council land will be visited by various agencies and every effort made to try and keep the site tidy.

Local authorities and the Environment Agency are seeking ways of using existing legislation to deal with these anti-social and often expensive problems. Private landowners are responsible for the removal of waste on their land. Certain waste requires special treatment. If in doubt, contact the Environmental Agency Hotline on 0800 807060.

What are the powers councils can use?

Section 77 – this allows the Council to require the encampers to leave, although it does have a legal obligation to make humanitarian enquiries and to take account of consideration of common humanity. All decisions by public bodies must be 'proportionate' and accord with the Human Rights Act.

Section 78 – if the encampers fail to comply with the request and direction of Section 77, the Council can apply to the Magistrates' Court under Section 78 for a Court Order requiring them to leave with their vehicles. If granted and the encampers still do not move, it authorises council officers to enter the land and remove the property (caravan/cars etc) to a safe place.

What if a landowner is content to allow an unauthorised encampment to remain temporarily?

Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission or is a farmer and the encampers are helping with fruit picking etc, the landowner could be in breach of planning law and the laws dealing with the licensing of caravan sites.

What can I do if I am unwilling to allow unauthorised encampments to occur on my land?

Trespass on land is a civil matter with prevention of trespass being the responsibility of the landowner. If you don't want to tolerate encampments for short periods of time, you may wish to consider whether any physical steps may be taken to prevent access to your land and if you or your solicitor can go to a county court and obtain an order granting you possession of your land.

You can find more at:

What if the landowner will not take action to remove encampers?

If the landowner will not take appropriate action to remove the encampers, and is in breach of any planning or licence requirements the local planning authority may take action against the landowner to require the removal of the caravans. Court actions would likely follow if the landowner does not comply.

Police powers – Section 61/62

CJPO ACT 1994 Section 61/62 (Criminal Justice & Public Order) and PCSC ACT 2022 (Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts) are powers that the Police can use. It can be used when two or more people are trespassing on land with six or more vehicles, where they have damaged land or property, where there has been threatening/abusive/insulting behaviour used against the occupier, the family or agent and where the landowner has asked them to leave (and they have failed to do so).

Subject to the above, the Police may then order the encampers immediate vacation from the site. The Police will consider issuing their powers when there is disruption to local business, schools or hospitals; where significant damage has been caused to the property, for example forced entry, where there is evidence of arrestable offences being committed by the trespassers; or where there is proof that any of the trespassers have used threatening behaviour.

What is Section 62A-E?

It allows the Police to attend in the case of one or more caravans, occupied by two people, where the landowner has asked they move from the land and when there is an alternative authorised pitch available for them on a suitable site within the local authority area. This new Police power cannot currently be used within Surrey. It will only be relevant in Surrey once there are vacant pitches available, or Transit Sites are established and available for use.

What legislation relates to Gypsies and Travellers and the management of unauthorised encampments?

The main legislation affecting Gypsies and Travellers and unauthorised encampments are the Human Rights Act, Race Relations Act and Sections 61, 62, 62A-E, 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022. This legislation is bound by various interpretations from the courts (case law) and guidance notes from the Government, which do not allow for racial discrimination or tolerated anti-social or criminal behaviour.

Do Police get involved with trespass?

In most cases, Trespass is a civil matter. However, the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022, declares that in certain cases, trespassers who illegally occupy third party land, could face a maximum 3 months in prison and/or a fine up to £2,500, (effectively committing a criminal offence).

It applies to any person over 18years, if:

  • Residing or intending to reside on land or in a vehicle (Includes caravans) on land, without consent of the landowner
  • Fails to leave or remove property (or re-enters land) as soon as reasonably practicable, when asked
  • Has caused or is likely to cause significant:
    1. Damage to land/property or the environment
    2. Disruption to the use of land/supply of utilities; and
    3. Distress via 'offensive conduct' such as threatening words or behaviour

Note: It is for the Police to decide on proportionate enforcement based on circumstances and evidence in each case. The power includes arrest and seizure of vehicle(s).

In this section

Subscribe to our newsletters for latest news and events.