Policy paper

Unauthorised encampments: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 factsheet

Updated 20 August 2022

1. What are we going to do?

We recognise the misery that some unauthorised encampments cause to local communities and businesses.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (“PCSC”) Act delivers on the Government’s commitment to strengthen the police’s powers to tackle those unauthorised encampments which cause damage, disruption or distress. This includes a new power of arrest and the power for police to seize the vehicles of those committing it.

The Act creates a new criminal offence of residing with a vehicle on land without permission. The new offence will be committed when someone causes significant damage, disruption or distress in the conditions described, but has been framed in such a way as to ensure that the rights of those wishing to enjoy the countryside are not impacted. In addition, we have strengthened existing powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (“the 1994 Act”).

2. How are we going to do it?

The PCSC Act creates a new offence for England and Wales and an accompanying power for the police to seize property (including vehicles) where individuals reside or intend to reside on land with a vehicle. The offence will be committed if a person who resides or intends to reside with a vehicle on land fails to leave the land or remove their property without reasonable excuse when asked to do so and they have caused, or are likely to cause, significant damage, disruption, or distress.

The maximum penalty will be three months’ imprisonment or a fine not exceeding level 4 (£2,500) on the standard scale, or both.

The Act also amends the 1994 Act to broaden the types of harm that can be caught by the power to direct trespassers under section 61(1)(a) of that Act (these replicate the damage, disruption and distress included in the new offence but are not “significant”) and increase the period in which persons directed away from land must not return from three to 12 months. In addition, amendments to the 1994 Act allow police to direct trespassers away from roads.

The arrest and vehicle seizure powers can be used when a trespasser has met the conditions of the offence and not left the land when asked to do so without reasonable excuse.

It is for the police to decide on proportionate enforcement action based on the circumstances and evidence of each case.

3. Background

The Government carried out an extensive public consultation in 2018, looking at the powers for dealing with unauthorised encampments and developments. The consultation responses signalled clear calls for the Government to take action to improve enforcement against unauthorised encampments, with only 9% of respondents stating that the current set of powers were effective.

In 2019, the Government conducted another public consultation, seeking views on how we should extend police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. 66% of people responding on behalf of local authorities to the Government’s 2019 consultation were in favour of a new criminal offence for intentional trespass. 94% supported one or more of the proposed amendments to the 1994 Act to extend the powers the police then had to direct trespassers to leave land.

3.1 Police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments before the PCSC Act changes

Sections 61 and 62 of the 1994 Act provide the police with two powers to remove unauthorised encampments where there are two or more persons are trespassing on land with the purpose of residing there and:

  • the trespassers have caused damage to the land or property on the land (except highways) or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour to the occupier, a member of the occupiers’ family, or their employee or agent, or
  • there are 6 or more vehicles on the land

Section 62A of the 1994 Act also allows the police to direct trespassers to remove themselves and their vehicles and property from land where a suitable pitch on a relevant caravan site is available within the same local authority area (or within the county in two-tier local authority areas). These powers can be used on any land.

3.2 Current local authority powers

Local authorities determine when it is appropriate to use their powers to evict unauthorised encampments under sections 77 and 78 of the 1994 Act.

4. Frequently asked questions

4.1 Why have you decided to create a new criminal offence and amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 simultaneously?

  • The Government’s view is that both the new and strengthened powers will provide police with sufficient powers to take effective enforcement action where a range of harms are caused The offence and the strengthened police powers could also deter unauthorised encampments from being set up in the first instance.
  • The 2018 consultation helped us to understand the appetite to extend powers available to the police when dealing with unauthorised encampments. The 2019 consultation asked how we should extend those powers.
  • All responses to both consultations were considered carefully.

4.2 Does the Act undermine the nomadic way of life of gypsies and travellers?

  • We respect the rights of the Traveller community to follow a nomadic way of life, in line with their cultural heritage.
  • We expect enforcement action will not be based on race or ethnicity. Anyone who causes significant damage, disruption or distress and does not leave when asked to do so will commit the offence.
  • We expect police to continue to abide by their duty to safeguard the vulnerable when taking enforcement decisions and to comply with equality and human rights obligations.
  • Our aim is for settled and travelling communities to be able to live side by side harmoniously and we hope that the clear rules and boundaries which we are putting in place will facilitate that.

4.3 Is this going to affect people using the countryside?

  • No, nothing changes for those wishing to enjoy the countryside. The new criminal offence applies to those who cause significant damage, disruption or distress while residing on land without permission in or with a vehicle. This will ensure unintentional instances of trespass are not caught by the offence, such as hikers and walkers accessing the countryside as part of a recreational pastime.
  • The offence does not apply where no harm is caused, ensuring that a person will not be criminalised for their mere presence on the land.

4.4 The answer is adequate site provision - not enforcement. What are you doing about this?

  • The issue of people causing harm is a separate one to site provision. If significant harms are being caused, it is only right that police have powers to tackle those harms.
  • The Planning Policy for Traveller Sites is clear that that local planning authorities should assess the need for traveller accommodation and identify land for sites. Local housing authorities are required to assess their housing and accommodation needs under the Housing Act 1985, including for those who reside in caravans.
  • Local authorities are best placed to make decisions about the number and location of such sites locally, having had due regard to national policy and local circumstances.
  • Local authorities and social housing providers are able to bid through the £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme 2021-26 for the funding of new sites.