What can publicans do if squatters come calling?

By Fred A'Court

- Last updated on GMT

Unlawful occupation: Advice for pubs over squatters. (Image: Google Maps)
Unlawful occupation: Advice for pubs over squatters. (Image: Google Maps)

Related tags: Common law, Law

What can a pub do if travellers or squatters simply turn up and camp outside the premises? Any unlawful occupation can be distressing and stressful, but under common law the land owner has a right to evict people to regain possession.

The subject became a trade talking point after travellers were quickly moved on recently following an incident at the Skymaster pub in Warrington where staff said the only ill effects were a few smashed bottles.

Landowner action

Expert advice suggests that any action against travellers should be taken by the landowner. Pub tenants and managers should immediately contact their brewery if they own the land.

According to Andy Coates, a director with Enforcement Bailiffs, simply issuing a common law eviction notice usually works. “To give notice we would serve a common law notice that has been correctly drafted telling the travellers to leave immediately. We would use a body camera to film this. At this stage we would also carry out a health and safety risk assessment in accordance with health and safety law. Then it’s a waiting game for the notice period to end.” If the travellers have not left at the end of the notice period bailiffs can give advice on possible further legal steps to take.

Next steps

According to Coates there are two steps that pubs can take at this stage. The first is Common Law Power in which bailiffs, in liaison with the police and using minimal force if necessary, are instructed to take vacant possession of the land after the notice period. A court order is not needed for this option.

The second possible step, only necessary if there are complications, is to apply for eviction under Part 55 Civil Procedure Rules. This usually involves a solicitor and legal costs. If sought in the County Court it can take up to two weeks to get an eviction through this course or perhaps up to three weeks from any property in central London. Going to the High Court under emergency Part 55 Civil Procedure Rules can result in a quicker eviction of three or four days, Coates said.

However, publicans would have to consider what might be the higher costs of hiring a lawyer to act in the High Court. “An eviction using this section of law needs to fit a very tight set of circumstances and you will need to have collected evidence to back up your case.”

Unauthorised encampments

Coates said these options were probably the only ones that a pub landlord would undertake. Any further action would probably be up to the local authority which might seek permission to remove unauthorised encampments under Sections 77-78 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994. The police can use Sections 61-62 of the same act. Coates said: “This is the type of eviction that is used by the police. They can use it to evict travellers from any land except the highway. There must be at least two people that need to be evicted. The police can remove both identified people and/or their vehicles from the land. There is no need for a court order to enforce this section of law.”

Public liability insurance

Publicans should use a bona fide agency when trying to evict travellers from land, Coates advised. “If you are using a reputable enforcement agent company they will carry public liability insurance as well as professional indemnity insurance.” He added: “Of course we all realise this can be a dangerous and confrontational job. With this mind a reputable company will carry employer’s liability insurance; if the bailiffs are under their control as sub-contractors or employees, we believe it should be a requirement. They should also be a member of a recognised trade association such as the Certificated Enforcement Agents Association or the Civil Enforcement Association.”

Andy Grimsey, partner with licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen said if an incident is simply antisocial or a noise nuisance rather than encampment then the local council environmental health officer or noise pollution officer should be called; many have out of hours numbers. For more serious incidents the safest thing would be to call the police, he advised.

Incidents in the pub

Grimsey said that for incidents inside the pub itself every licensee has a duty to promote the licensing objectives and if allowing a customer to enter the premises would undermine those objectives then it would be lawful to refuse entry.

He said “A good practice tip when contentious refusals are made is to note the specific reasons in a refusals log justifying refusal.” For example, someone could be banned for smashing a window on the grounds of prevention of crime and disorder.

“If you have had to expel them previously from your premises or they are banned by Pubwatch for previous violent behaviour, then this could be a lawful refusal. It is when there is either outright discrimination or stereotyping of classes of people that discrimination occurs, which is unlawful.”

Equality legislation makes it unlawful to refuse entry on the grounds of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation and disability.

Related topics: Property law

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