2. Putting Principles for Supporting Encampments in to Practice
Support that can be put in place should be locally determined and reviewed in line with changing public health advice and available public services. It should draw on sources of funding that may be available to meet public health needs and/or safeguard and protect people's rights and fulfil statutory equality and Fairer Scotland duties.
2.1 Roadside Encampments
Guidance on Managing Unauthorised Encampments sets out some basic principles to be followed that continue to be relevant during this period:
- Local Authorities should seek to manage unauthorised sites to minimise disruption for all concerned and ensure that any anti‑social behaviour is tackled firmly, regardless of who the perpetrators are; and
- The same standards of behaviour should be expected from all members of the community, whether Gypsy/Travellers or the settled community, based on mutual respect and with regard to the rights and responsibilities of all those concerned.
The key stages set out in the guidance are:
- An initial site visit to speak to the residents, assess the situation, establish the length of time that the residents wish to remain on the camp and reach agreement with residents on services that might need to be in place for this to be supported and/or for encampments to shift safely when they move on. Covid 19 should be discussed and an assessment should be made of any additional needs in order to meet health protection needs, particularly where there are people in the camp who are at risk e.g. due to age or health conditions;
- A decision on the most appropriate, proportionate response to keep the people in the camp and the wider community safe, for example, supporting the encampment where it is, or identifying an alternative location/space on a permanent site or within the Local Authority area; and
- An agreement with the camp members on the best way forward and provision of appropriate services, the length of time it will be required or be available for, as well as any conditions placed on the provision of the services e.g. requirements relating to use of waste removal facilities.
Other considerations are:
- The reasons people are living roadside–e.g. living permanently roadside due to cultural lifestyle; travelling because of seasonal based work patterns; travelling temporarily for cultural reasons or to support family. These should be taken in to account when determining the type and duration of support that can be provided. Support should be prioritised for more vulnerable families;
- Families will have different requirements, some may wish to camp without sanitation. However, unless it is rejected there should be a specific focus on ensuring people have access to safe places to wash and access toilet facilities in order to comply with public health guidelines;
- Where the local authority is unable to reach agreement with a family on the support that can be made available; and/or support is withdrawn the decision and reasons for refusal/withdrawal should be clearly communicated to the family and efforts taken to refer them safely to alternative assistance if available;
- The local authority should ensure that Gypsy/Travellers understand their rights to make a homelessness application and to apply for housing in the local area. For some families, this will not meet their cultural preferences but, for others, it may be the preferred option; and
- A site in another local authority may be considered, where the neighbouring authority is in agreement and where this best meets the family's needs. A site in another local authority should not be signposted without discussion and agreement between authorities.
2.2 Negotiated Stopping
Local Authorities may want to consider adopting approaches such as 'negotiated stopping' which advocates positive engagement with sites and the use of written agreements to determine the provision and use of services on encampments, along with agreeing expectations such as noise levels, safe disposal of waste and communication with the Local Authority on any changing circumstances.
COSLA continues to work with Local Authorities as part of the national action plan, to develop and test effective approaches to managing roadside encampments and to 'pilot' negotiated stopping models in Scotland. This work is currently including a focus on developing practice in relation to areas as follows:
- Supporting families with children and adults with care needs living on roadside encampments;
- Provision of sanitation;
- Identification of safe and suitable stopping places; and
- Engagement and participation.
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2.3 Public Sector Sites
The emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Act came in to force on 5 April 2020 and will expire on the 24 March 2022, except for 5 provisions which have been extended in regulations to 24 September 2022 through The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Alteration of Expiry Date) (Scotland) Regulations 2022 (legislation.gov.uk). The Act includes measures on evictions to protect tenants. The Minimum Standards on Gypsy/Traveller Accommodation set out the rights and responsibilities for occupancy agreements on public sector Gypsy/Traveller sites, including guidelines for ending a tenancy. Where relevant, Social Landlords should extend the same protection to Gypsy/Travellers sites as to tenants in social housing. In addition:
- Social Landlords should work with residents to review and assess arrangements on public sector sites to ensure that they meet the need, including any newly arising needs for services. This includes identifying where broadband/Wi-Fi connections are a barrier to accessing services which are predominantly provided online and making plans with residents to overcome this; and
- Continued support should be provided to those at higher risk of developing severe illness with coronavirus (formerly 'shielding group'). Needs should be considered around for example, isolation or emotional support.
2.4 Private Sites
Some private Gypsy/Traveller sites operate on a private rental basis, with different families renting a pitch directly from a private landlord, who may or may not live on the site. Other private sites are occupied by a family group who own the land themselves.
There are likely to be people at high risk living on private sites, who may be less well connected with the information and services they need to keep themselves safe and well, and to cope if they become ill. Local Authorities may be able to identify private Gypsy/Traveller sites in their area by checking with Planning departments on whether they are generally aware of sites or can provide information on current planning permissions. Local Authorities will also need to consider sites that have not yet had planning permission but may have people living on them.
If there is an outbreak on a private site, the local authority, with the local Health Board Health Protection Teams, should seek to assess any specific public health risks and to work with landlords to ensure the appropriate support is in place. The accommodation and washing facilities on private sites will vary but there may be a need for additional facilities and Local Authorities can consider whether the offer of additional sanitation should be extended to private sites. There should be an awareness that individuals/families may be reluctant to report lack of adequate services due to fear of eviction from the site owner so additional engagement may be needed.
2.5 Establishing and meeting accommodation needs and demands
If an encampment is in place for a prolonged period during the operation of the Framework and/or a family expresses a desire to remain in the local authority area, the local authority should work with the family to understand their accommodation needs. If a family is seeking to remain in the local authority area in the longer term, every effort should be made to find them a settled location, such as a permanent pitch on a local authority site, so that they can continue to engage with services and to avoid risks of breaks in education, homelessness and inadequate living standards.
In circumstances where an encampment is seeking to remain in the local area and there is a lack of alternative site provision, the Local Authority should ensure this is reflected within their local Housing Needs and Demands Assessments (HNDA) and that any ongoing needs for permanent, seasonal or transit or stopping place provision in the local area are captured and considered.
Whilst work is undertaken to assess the needs and demands or viability of new or additional site provision, Local authorities should seek to meet immediate needs. This might include sustaining support to a temporary encampment or developing temporary provision until a permanent option is available.
2.6 Provision for unauthorised encampments if there is a COVID-19 outbreak
Where there is an outbreak on an encampment, direct engagement will all local authorities to understand the specific risks and vulnerabilities of residents and what measures may be required. Staff working on or visiting sites should follow the advice from Health Protection Scotland on working in non-healthcare settings available at: http://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/web-resources-container/covid-19-guidance-for-non-healthcare-settings/
As part of resilience planning, Local Authorities should identify suitable land for encampments and/or to support self-isolation and physical distancing. If appropriate, this can be done on a regional basis, with Local Authorities working together to identity appropriate locations.
For encampments of Gypsy/Travellers who do not have a settled home, if there are Covid 19 cases in a camp, or local travel restrictions have been re-introduced, in order to protect public health:
- Local Authorities should only consider eviction or dispersing a camp where the location of an encampment is unsuitable for health or safety reasons or if there is another good reason, for example antisocial behaviour;
- Local Authorities should not move anyone on until they are able to access a safe alternative stopping place and sanitation;
- Local Authorities should work with residents to identify and agree any local provision and arrangements for moving encampments;
- Local Authorities should seek to work with private landowners to avoid eviction or harassment;
- Where possible, encampments experiencing an outbreak should be provided with:
- sanitation, in the form of toilets and hand washing facilities to allow families to self-isolate within a caravan and limit sharing of facilities and therefore risk spreading the virus. As an alternative, Local Authorities can provide another appropriate location with access to sanitation;
- Bins and regular collections, to allow for safe disposal of waste, which can often be a point of concern for the settled community. Encampments should also be given information on how to dispose of excess waste or items that cannot go in to bins, e.g. gas bottles. Advice should be provided on safe waste disposal in cases where someone is showing Covid 19 symptoms – i.e. double bagging personal waste and waiting 72 hours before putting out for collection. People may need extra bins to make this feasible in a roadside setting;
- Relevant information should be given about Covid 19 testing, self-isolation and the vaccination programme, including information for anyone who may be at highest clinical risk (previously known as shielding); and
- Engagement with site residents should include a discussion on physical distancing and self-isolation, the use of any shared facilities on the encampment.
2.7 Provision for public sites if there is a COVID-19 outbreak
Local Authority sites typically have one amenity block (for toilet, washing and cooking) per pitch, but that pitch may be occupied by two or more trailers of the same family. If someone on a site or camp becomes unwell with Covid-19 symptoms, they and their household need to follow public health advice. By household we mean members of the family who live and eat together, sharing an amenity block/bathroom facilities on the same pitch. Due to the confined living conditions on Gypsy/Traveller camps, support may be needed to do this. The Local Authority may wish to provide support by:
- Offering additional toilets or spread families across pitches, creating two smaller households with separate facilities;
- Engaging with site residents, including a discussion on how provisions for physical distancing and self-isolation can be implemented on the site;
- Giving advice on shared facilities e.g. drawing up a rota for washing or bathing, with the person who is unwell using the facilities last, before cleaning the bathroom themselves, using standard household detergent and disinfectant active against viruses and bacteria;
- Ensuring that there is access to fuel supplies and consider measures that might help to prevent or mitigate the risk of fuel poverty. Support from Home Energy Scotland is detailed at 4.3; and
- Ensuring anyone who is on the highest clinical risk list (previously shielding list) understands the current advice and identifying any support needed.
No-one should be asked to leave a site or camp because someone in the family has fallen ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. They should be supported to access the relevant services. They should also be supported to share the news of their illness with others on the camp, particularly where there has been contact, so that they can also self-isolate.
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