Criminalising unauthorised encampments

CLA Chief Legal Adviser Andrew Gillett examines the detail behind unauthorised encampments becoming a criminal offence

The issue of unauthorised encampments is a perennial one for many members.

While there are steps that can be taken to make land less attractive to someone looking to setup an unauthorised encampment, it is almost impossible to reduce the risk to zero. Members, who find themselves having to deal with such unauthorised encampments, often find that the matter creates a significant amount of stress and that the time and expense involved in resolving the matter can be considerable. In addition to this, many members have reported that they have received threats and, on occasion, violence in dealing with the matter and then there is the clean-up cost which again can be large.

As things currently stand, farmers and landowners will not generally be able to secure police help as such trespass is considered a civil matter, but things now look set to change.

The CLA has long lobbied Government for a change in the law on this matter. Most recently, we responded to the last two Government consultations in detail, one in 2018 and then again in 2019, in support of the Government’s proposals, in line with member feedback. We are, therefore, pleased to be able to report that the Government has recently announced that they intend to bring in a relatively tightly defined offence to tackle this problem.

As ever, the detail will be important, and the wording of the Bill will, I am sure, be closely scrutinised, but the intention of Government appears clear. The offence would apply where:

  • A person aged 18 or over resides or intends to reside on land without consent of the occupier of the land
  • They have, or intend to have, at least one vehicle with them on the land;
  • They have caused or are likely to cause significant damage, disruption or distress
  • They, without reasonable excuse fail to leave the land and remove their property following a request to do so by an occupier of the land, their representative or a constable or;
  • Enter or, having left, re-enter the land with an intention of residing there without the consent of the occupier of the land, and with an intention to have at least one vehicle with them, within 12 months of a request to leave and remove their property from an occupier of the land, their representative or a constable.
  • Reasonable suspicion that a person has committed this offence confers power on a constable to seize their vehicle/other property for up to three months from the date of seizure or, if criminal proceedings are commenced, until the conclusion of those proceedings.

When the consultation was announced, there was some concern from walking groups, such as the Ramblers, that this could catch wider activities in the countryside including walking etc. It is hoped that the intended tight definition of the offence will prevent such concerns, but still allow a workable solution to the problems this issue causes to landowners.

Key contact:

Andrew Gillett
Andrew Gillett Chief Legal Adviser, London