New powers granted to police to deal with unauthorised encampments on open land with vehicles
Published on 23rd Jun 2022
Landowners and local authorities are likely to welcome having an additional method of recourse, through criminal enforcement channels, when faced with unauthorised encampments
From 28 June 2022, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 introduces a new offence in England and Wales relating to residing on land without consent, in or with a vehicle.
The new offence
The offence arises in England and Wales where:
- a person over 18 is residing, or intends to reside on land without consent of the occupier;
- the occupier, their representative or a police constable has asked them to leave and/or remove their property from the land and they do not do so as soon as reasonably practicable;
- the person has, or intends to have, at least one vehicle with them on the land; and
- significant damage, disruption or distress has been caused or is likely to be caused by the person's presence on the land or as a result of their conduct while present on the land.
Damage will include damage to the environment, including excessive noise, litter and waste.
If the person enters or re-enters the land with at least one vehicle within 12 months from the date of the request for them to leave and/or remove their property, a further offence will have been committed. The encampment could then face three months in prison or a fine of up to £2,500, or both.
Under the Act, the police also now have related additional powers to seize and remove property from land where the above criteria is satisfied.
Limitations of the offence
While the Act introduces several new powers for police, the offence has several limitations including the following:
- it relates to the occupation of land only, not buildings;
- it only applies where a vehicle is involved (or intended to be involved) in the encampment; and
- the occupier of the land (or a police constable) has to make the relevant request to trigger the offence, and this must be the person entitled to possession of the land. Therefore, a landlord will need to prompt its tenant to take action or involve the police if necessary.
Under the Act local authorities are deemed to be the occupier of common land, where the occupier cannot be identified.
Osborne Clarke comment
The introduction of the offence under the Act will be welcomed by landowners and local authorities in providing an additional method of recourse when faced with unauthorised encampments involving vehicles. This can be used in conjunction with traditional civil enforcement action.
However, the offence is designed to cover a very specific set of circumstance and so landowners may not find it useful in all scenarios involving trespassers, particularly in light of the requirement that a vehicle must be involved and the exclusion of buildings from the ambit of the offence. A situation that would not give rise to the offence for example would be where there were wild campers trespassing, causing littering and sanitation issues, but no vehicles were present. It will be interesting to see how many unauthorised encampments are prosecuted under this section of the Act this year.
More generally, when faced with unauthorised encampments, it is vital for landowners to act quickly and take professional advice, so that a combined civil and criminal approach can be taken to ensure that possession of the land is restored as quickly as possible, with minimal loss and damage caused.