There is often a lot of confusion about what we as a council have the power to do when dealing with unauthorised encampments.
Therefore, we have put together a guide to the steps we follow when we receive a report from the public
Councillor Dave Downie, Cabinet Member for Safe and Stronger Communities said: “Plymouth City Council does not tolerate unauthorised encampments on public land and has robust processes in place to move them.
“As a council we are sometimes criticised for not dealing with unauthorised encampments quickly enough but there are laws and procedures that we need to follow. We need to balance our statutory duty to look after people regardless of their race or background with the need to protect public property and tackle breaches of the law.
“We must be sure that the Gypsy, Romany and Travelling community is free to live the life that they choose to, while at the same time obeying the laws of the land. We are currently discussing a long-term plan to reduce the amount of unauthorised encampments by providing appropriate sites for the GRT community to use.
“We will always act promptly when alerted to unauthorised encampments and would encourage members of the public to alert us as soon as possible.”
What happens when an unauthorised encampment is reported to the council?
As soon as we have a reported encampment, we check if the land in question is council owned. If it is not, we inform the landowner and then offer them legal advice. If it is on council owned land, we inform our Community Connections team.
Community Connections is a multi-disciplinary team, working across the city, with and in communities, to support and empower citizens to make sustainable change in their lives.
Our Community Connections team visit the unauthorised site as soon as possible to make initial welfare checks. This is to ensure that needs of the people on the camp are met and that everyone living on the encampment is safe and well. Sometimes there are pregnancies or ill health that Community Connections officers can help with. We are also able to discuss plans or raise any concerns regarding their situation or behaviours.
We check the site they are on and order bins and toilets to minimise damage to the area. We also establish a key contact within the camp and inform them that we will be putting legal procedures in place that will force them to move on.
We send the welfare checks to our legal team and they prepare a Notice to Quit.
What is a Notice to Quit?
A Notice to Quit is a legal document that informs the camp that they have 48 hours to vacate the area. This time can be shortened or lengthened depending on the circumstance. For example, if the welfare checks reveal no issues and the encampment is causing an issue for member of the public, the Notice to Quit could be 24 hours.
The Notice to Quit is served to the camp as soon as it is granted by our legal department.
What happens if the Notice to Quit is ignored?
When the Notice to Quit has expired, our Community Connections team visit the site to ensure that is vacated. A street cleaning team are then dispatched to the area.
In most cases, the Notice to Quit is effective however, if site is not vacated, lawyers prepare a legal Claim for Possession. This will include statements that confirm our land ownership and evidence that the unauthorised encampment has been asked to leave but has failed to do so. This gives us the right to evict.
How long does this take?
As soon as the court has issued the claim, it sets a hearing date, usually for around a week later. This is because of court rules surrounding notice periods. For example, our teams must serve the camp with the Claim for Possession at least two working days before the hearing.
How do you evict them?
Our current procedure is that the eviction is carried about by County Court bailiffs. However, due to recent delays in the use of county court bailiffs (approximately four weeks rather than two weeks previously), Private High Court Enforcement Officers are sometimes used in cases that are more urgent due to a health and safety concern, or have a high level of community impact.
Our Community Connections officers attend the evictions and a street cleaning team is called.