Unauthorised encampments

Unauthorised encampments

From time to time, people may stop and temporarily set up camp on public or private land without the landowner's permission - we call this an 'unauthorised encampment'.

The unauthorised campers could be anyone, and they may use a variety of accommodation such as tents, improvised shelters, caravans, trailers or vehicles.

Unauthorised camping is classed as trespass which is a civil offence (but not a criminal offence). Landowners and local authorities have the right to repossess their property using legal means.

The responsibility for dealing with an unauthorised encampment lies with whoever is responsible for the land it is on:

Chesterfield Borough Council land

If the unauthorised encampment is on a public open space, such as a park, recreation ground or car park owned by Chesterfield Borough Council, please report it to us by calling 01246 959655 or 01246 959656; we will investigate and take any necessary action.

Derbyshire County Council land

The county council deals with encampments on land that they own, on the roads and highways, and on grass verges; please contact them on 01629 538466. 

Privately owned land

Where unauthorised camping takes place on private land it is the landowner's responsibility, and they must decide what action to take (see more guidance below).

Anti-social or criminal behaviour

If you have witnessed anti-social or criminal behaviour and are able to identify the culprits you should report this on the Police 101 non-emergency number; if it is an emergency report it on 999.

No, to make sure that any action we take is successful we need to comply with the law.

The law says we must:

  • make enquiries about the general health and welfare of the group and the education of any children
  • comply with human rights, equalities and other related legislation
  • show that the unauthorised encampment is on the land without our consent
  • follow a set procedure in terms of proving our ownership of land and details of the unauthorised encampment
  • gather sufficient evidence to demonstrate to the court that the unauthorised encampment is preventing or affecting use of the open space by the local community

Local authorities must consider the health and wellbeing of everyone at the unauthorised encampment, so we carry out welfare checks to find out if anyone needs to access council services or needs medical help. We also provide bin bags to help the campers dispose of their rubbish easily.

If it is clear that the group are not going to leave quickly, and the encampment is causing a negative impact on the local area and community, we will begin legal action to move the encampment on. 

We get proof of ownership of the land, then we serve a 'direction order' on the unauthorised campers instructing them to leave at a particular date and time. 

If the group doesn't leave, we will apply to the Magistrate's Court to get a summons for a court hearing where we will apply for a 'removal order'.

Council officers will enforce the removal order if the group haven't already left the unauthorised encampment. 

The Government's 'Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments' guide explains the enforcement powers local authorities can use.  

We are also part of the Derbyshire Traveller Issues Working Group and follow their guidance where the unauthorised campers are Gypsies and Travellers (see more below). 


Section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives us the power to direct individuals to remove their vehicles and belongings and leave our land.

We can draw up a 'direction order', which is approved and signed by an authorised signatory of the council, that instructs the unauthorised campers to leave on a particular date and time.

The direction order is 'served' on the unauthorised campers by a local authority officer - this means it is given directly to one of the unauthorised campers or fixed prominently to one of the vehicles.

If the unauthorised campers do not move and/or remove any vehicles and other property as instructed in the direction order, or if they return to the same location within three months, they are then committing a criminal offence and we will apply for a 'removal order'.

If unauthorised campers haven't moved on as instructed in a direction order, we can apply for a removal order under Section 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The campers are served with a summons to attend a Magistrates Court hearing where we will apply for the removal order.

If it is granted we will have the power to force the campers to move on and, if necessary, remove the unauthorised campers and their vehicles from the land.

Yes, if:

  • there is an unavoidable reason for the encampment to stay
  • the council hasn't followed the proper processes and procedures, or
  • there is not enough evidence that the encampment is having a significant impact on the local community

It is important that we take the time to make all enquiries, follow all procedures, and collect the necessary evidence, before applying to the Magistrates Court to seek a court order.

We will encourage the campers to be more considerate of residents. 

However, reports of noise nuisance will be investigated by the council and if appropriate, used as part of the application for a removal order.

We regularly visit unauthorised encampments on our land and provide practical help, such as providing bin bags, to encourage the campers to keep the site tidy. 

When the group moves on we make sure that any waste that might be left behind is removed from the site swiftly, so that it can be returned to use as soon as possible.

Private landowners are responsible for the removal of waste from unauthorised encampments on their land.

When an unauthorised encampment happens on our land, we will almost always take the lead in arranging its removal.

The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime, they will investigate and deal with reports of criminal activity and public disorder.

Under certain circumstances the police can use powers under Sections 61 and 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which gives them the power to remove trespassers and their vehicles.

It is for the police to decide if these powers should be used, and usually they will only be invoked where there are situations of serious criminality or public disorder that can't be dealt with through other legislation.

It is illegal to stop entry to, or exit from, an unauthorised encampment once it has been set up. 

Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. If an encampment has been set up on our land without our permission, we must follow the legislation and guidelines and apply for a direction/removal order through the courts if necessary.

Breaking in and damaging property are criminal offences which are investigated by the police.

Any enforcement over these issues will be subject to sufficient evidence and witness statements; witnesses would be required make a statement to the courts confirming that they can identify the person who caused the damage. 

If you have witnessed anti-social or criminal behaviour and are able to identify the culprits you should report this on the Police 101 non-emergency number; if it is an emergency report it on 999.

Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers is the responsibility of the landowner, not the police.

The police take details of vehicles that are part of an unauthorised encampment and the owners or users of those vehicles are prosecuted as and when appropriate.

The police will stop any dangerous vehicles as they move between sites and have them removed from the highway, but if an eviction is to be successful arrangements have to be made to allow them to move on, which includes having sufficient vehicles available to tow any caravans present on site.

If a site regularly attracts unauthorised encampments we will review its security arrangements.

We consider the installation of bollards, boulders, fencing, gates or landscaping as possible security measures for individual sites.

However, many of the sites used for encampments also provide open access for residents, visitors, emergency and maintenance vehicles; we have to balance security with continuing to allow access to the general public.

We pass on information to Derbyshire County Council and to other neighbouring authorities when we know that an unauthorised encampment is leaving our area.

Likewise, when we receive information from our neighbouring councils and police we will work to provide additional protection to our most prominent open spaces.

Once we have carried out welfare checks our priority is to move unauthorised encampments on swiftly, using legal powers if we need to. That way we can return the land to its normal use for the benefit of residents, businesses and visitors.

We will focus our efforts on moving the encampment on and the legal processes that involves, rather than trying to enforce the collection of car parking charges.

Council Tax is not payable on mobile homes, touring caravans or other vehicles or accommodation that forms part of a temporary unauthorised encampment. Caravans that occupy pitches on permanent sites may be liable to pay Council Tax, see more on the Valuation Office Agency website.

When we take legal action to move on an unauthorised encampment, the court orders we obtain are for the site it is on - that means that the group are bound to leave that site and not return to it within three months.

We can't use the order to stop the group moving to another part of our area, but when we know an encampment is moving on we do take steps to protect other vulnerable sites in the borough.

If an unauthorised encampment moves onto other land that we own we would have to start legal proceedings to move them on from scratch.

We realise that some unauthorised encampments may move on in a short time, but we need to make sure that the land we own is returned to its proper use quickly. 

That's why we begin the process to move encampments on as soon as possible so that the land can used and enjoyed as intended by the community, businesses and visitors.

Encampments can only be allowed to stay on land that has the necessary licensing and planning permissions, with suitable fire safety and sanitary facilities.

Private landowners are not obliged to carry out health and welfare checks if an unauthorised encampment happens on their land, but they still need to deal with the unauthorised encampment.

It is the landowner’s responsibility to take the necessary action to move the encampment on in a reasonable time, and to clear away any rubbish left behind afterwards.

The landowner can try to agree a date by when the unauthorised campers will leave.

If this isn't possible, or if the group doesn't move on as agreed, the landowner can apply to the County Court to get a court order for their eviction as trespassers under the Civil Procedures Rules 1998.

If the landowner is happy for the encampment to stay, they must contact the council to discuss any planning permission needed for use of their land as a campsite. 

The landowner must also apply to us for a caravan or camping site licence and provide all the necessary fire safety and sanitary facilities required.

Any breach of planning or licensing permissions could results in the council taking action against the landowner.


Get in touch

If you have any queries or wish to report an illegal encampment on what you believe may be land owned by Chesterfield Borough Council:

Gypsies and Travellers

Some of the unauthorised encampments within the borough are by Gypsies and Travellers, who are recognised as ethnic groups with particular cultures, languages and values, and are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Gypsies and Travellers have the right to access local health and welfare services, and should be treated with the same respect as the settled community. 

We need to balance this right with the rights of residents, the owners of the land, and visitors who enjoy our open spaces and facilities.

We are part of the Derbyshire Traveller Issues Working Group and follow their guidance where the unauthorised campers are Gypsies and Travellers (see below).

If our documents are not accessible to you, you can request a different format here.
Dtiwg Inter Agency Guidance July 2019 PDF (PDF 546 KB)

Last updated on 08/05/2024