William Eichler 07 February 2019

Whitehall to tackle illegal traveller sites

The home secretary has announced that he is considering making it a criminal offence for travellers to set up camps on land they should not be on - despite a shortage of legal sites.

Under current legislation, travellers who settle on land that has not been set aside for them are guilty of trespassing, which is a civil matter.

The move is part of a raft of measures, proposed in a Government consultation, aimed at making it easier for officers to intervene and remove travellers from illegally settled land.

The consultation recommended lowering the number of vehicles needed to be involved in an illegal camp before police can act from six to two.

It also proposed giving the police powers to direct travellers to sites in neighbouring local authorities.

‘The vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens — but illegal sites often give an unfair, negative image of their community and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby,’ said Mr Javid.

‘There is a widespread perception that the law does not apply to travellers and that is deeply troubling.’

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has announced it will provide local authorities with practical and financial support to handle unauthorised encampments.

MHCLG has committed to give councils up to £1.5m of extra funding to help them enforce planning rules and tackle unauthorised sites.

Funding is also available under the £9bn Affordable Homes Programme to help pay for legal pitches.

‘During our consultation, we have heard accounts of needless and unacceptable noise, abusive and threatening behaviour and extensive litter and waste from illegal traveller sites,’ said communities secretary James Brokenshire.

‘Only a small minority of people are causing this distress, but it’s right that police are given extra powers to step in.

‘We are committed to working with councils to help them deal with these challenging cases, while also ensuring travellers have good access to legal sites.’

A charity that advocates for travellers submitted evidence to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in January highlighting the ‘widespread lack of progress’ by councils on the provision of traveller sites.

The charity estimated that there were 3,000 families with no site to stop on despite councils having access to funds through the Affordable Homes Programme.

They said this has a ‘devastating impact’ on health, education and overall risk of poverty as a result.

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