Police in England and Wales will be awarded new powers to disperse trespassers under new legislation from the Home Office.
Following the end of consultations on legislation for tackling unauthorised encampments, a new law will make it a criminal offence to reside on any public or private land in vehicles without permission from the landowner.
The law intends to target unauthorised encampments which cause distress, harm and disruption to local communities.
The change will be brought in as part of a new criminal justice bill to be introduced in Parliament imminently. The new bill also includes measures to crack down on child abuse, and tougher sentencing for certain crimes.
Up to £2,500 fine or 3 months in prison
Under the new trespass offence, police will be permitted to seize vehicles and arrest any offenders, who will be liable for a fine of up to £2,500, three months in prison, or both.
The law will apply where:
- A person is aged 18 or over and they are using vehicles to reside on the land
- They are residing or intending to reside on land without the consent of the occupier
- They have caused or are likely to cause significant damage, disruption or distress
- They fail to respond to a request from the occupier or police to leave the land and remove their property or they return to the land within 12 months with an intention to reside with a vehicle, following that request
Though the Home Office has said that the law will not impact occasional campers, ramblers or hikers, some have raised concerns that new powers could impact on the public's ability to freely access land for leisure purposes.
Others have pointed out that the new legislation will disproportionately affect and persecute traveller communities, who traditionally live nomadic lifestyles and are recognised as an ethnic group under the Race Relations Act.
The number of caravans deemed to make up an "unauthorised encampment" under new legislation has been reduced from six to two.
The Government has said that the measures will "target harmful encampments which reflect badly on the wider nomadic community as a whole, the majority of whom are law-abiding".