It’s what many private landowners dread. You wake up one morning to discover travellers have moved on to your land, very possibly with a number caravans, children and animals in tow. Your first concern is probably the damage they could cause and how to evict the travellers as quickly as possible.
Important factors to bear in mind before you evict
But whatever you do, treat the situation with caution. There are well-reported cases where there has been violence between landowners and travellers.
But there may also be families and young children present too. Some landowners welcome the presence of respectable travellers who can add much to local community life. It’s important to try and assess your situation and the travellers on your land before you take any action.
Is it a criminal offence for travellers to camp on your land?
Trespassing on private land is not a criminal offence. And what’s more, as the landowner, it is you (not the police or your local authority), who has the responsibility of removing trespassers from your land.
The police do have some limited powers but are often reluctant to get involved. For example, if there has been damage done, they might consider prosecuting the offenders for criminal damage but that would not entail helping you to evict the travellers.
However, once you become aware of trespassers and have properly assessed the situation, you will probably need to act fast.
So, what are your options and how do you evict travellers?
You have 3 options available to you. You have common law rights to evict and alternatively, you can bring civil proceeding in the County or High Court.
Option 1 – Common Law Power to Evict Travellers
There is a common law provision (under the tort of trespass against property) that allows landowners to take vacant possession of your land by the removal of unauthorised encampments of travellers.
Although this can be a quick and efficient method of eviction, we do always advise you to take professional advice first and instruct a professional bailiff (an enforcement agency) to take possession of the land on your behalf (this is permitted by the rules).
The good news about this option is that there is no requirement that you get a court order first. Your enforcement agency will prepare and serve a notice giving the travellers 24 hours to vacate the premises. They will then either hand it to an adult member of the travellers or display it in prominent positions around the site.
If the travellers fail to vacate, the enforcement agency will return to evict them. Subsequently, your agency should secure the site and take photos of any damage etc. as appropriate.
This common law process also allows you to seek damages for the trespass (although this is often unrealistic) and or an injunction to prevent further trespass.
Ensure they are removed with minimal force and in the correct way
Those responsible for the eviction (usually the bailiffs /enforcement agency) must only use ‘reasonable force’. What this amounts to will depend on the particular circumstances of your case but must be no more force than you or the bailiff honestly believed was reasonable in order to evict the travellers. Bailiffs are experienced in this sensitive area which is another important reason not to try and do this yourself.
Case law also requires that trespassers who entered and occupied land peaceably are entitled to a request to leave before forcible removal occurs. However, a trespasser who entered land by force or with violence can be forcibly removed immediately without the need for a request to depart.
Always notify the police
Police should always be notified of an eviction and called in to stand by to prevent a breach of the peace. If police advise that it is inappropriate to carry out an eviction, it should always be delayed until an agreed time.
The police may have valuable information about the travellers on your site, how best to proceed and or whether there is a risk of violence or damage.
Option 2 – How to evict travellers via the County Court
Alternatively, you may need to apply to the court for an order and we have set out full details of what you need to do in our blog about evicting squatters here. Before you start proceedings, however, make sure that you have clearly asked the travellers to leave.
You may also be able to apply for an urgent injunction, but these can be hard to obtain and you will probably need legal advice and representation.
Failing that, you will need to apply for an Interim Possession Order and a Full Possession Order. In any event, you are likely to need the services of a solicitor and the full procedure can take up to 4-6 weeks. If you are able to apply for and are granted an injunction, it’s much quicker.
Interim Possession Orders (IPO)
If you apply for an IPO, you will be given an appointment as soon as the court can accommodate you. However, this must be at least 3 working days after you started your claim because you must give the travellers at least 3 days’ notice so they can attend the hearing if they wish to do so.
You can read full details of how you give the trespassers notice of the hearing here (known as service) and the rules are very strict. You don’t need to know the names of the travellers to serve the notice. The court documents will be stamped with a Notice of Issue with the date and time of your court hearing and this should then be attached to the gates of your land or on a stake on your land. We recommend that you instruct professional process servers to do this for you as failure to do it correctly can jeopardise your claim.
Please note, you cannot apply for an IPO in respect of open land, but you can apply for one in respect of land ancillary to a building which is being occupied.
If the court grants your IPO
If an IPO is granted, then the trespassers must leave within 24 hours of the notice being served on them. Again, we recommend using professional process servers for this. It is a criminal offence to disobey an IPO and if they don’t leave, you can ask the police to arrest them.
That said, as we have already mentioned, the police are often reluctant to get involved and you may have to use court bailiffs or an enforcement agency to enforce the order. Bailiffs and enforcement agents are allowed to remove caravans and vehicles – this can be a major procedure but also a delicate and or dangerous one which is another reason to instruct professionals.
If for some reason, you are not granted an IPO, your application will proceed to a final hearing to decide whether you should be granted a Full Possession Order. This will depend on the exact circumstances of your case.
Option 3 – High Court Proceedings
This is a quicker method of eviction (taking 3-4 days) but this can be much more expensive, and you can only apply to the High Court in a particular set of circumstances. You will need a solicitor to advise you as to whether your circumstances satisfy the requirements. We partner with various professionals and can recommend someone to assist you with this if you’d like to know more.
How to choose which method of eviction to use
Which method you choose will depend on the number of trespassers, how likely they are to move on when asked, and any public relations issues or concerns you may have.
If there are large numbers of travellers who are unlikely to willingly move on, it may be more appropriate to issue County Court proceedings. This way, the police are more likely to have an obligation to assist.
Dealing with travellers isn’t normally an ideal situation but with proper advice and assistance, it doesn’t have to be a lengthy disaster either. When dealing with traveller evictions we always act swiftly but sensitively towards all involved. If you’d like to know more about how to evict travellers, please contact us.
Get in touch
Call us now on 0333 567 7080 for more information.
This post is meant as a guide only. If in doubt, or if your situation is unusual, you should take professional advice. If needed, contact us and we’ll recommend a suitable professional.