UK: No time for Gypsies and Travellers
Right you ain't: Like all Gypsies and Travellers living on local council sites across Britain, these young Romany Gypsies in Hartney Witney, Hampshire can be forced out of their homes at very short notice
With a general election looming, the British government has quietly let it slip that it no longer has time for Gypsies and Travellers. Or not enough time left in parliament to fulfil its promise to extend security of tenure to Gypsies and Travellers living on any of Britain’s 350 council owned Gypsy and Traveller sites. Gypsy and Traveller campaigners and lawyers are outraged at the decision and are desperately looking for someone living on a council Gypsy site to help challenge the decision in court.
Many people don’t realise that Gypsies and Travellers living on council sites don’t enjoy the same rights to their homes as people living in council housing. They are simply licensees whose right to stay on the plot they have been given can be terminated at very short notice with no legal recourse, no matter how long they may have lived on the site. The loophole in British law has long made Gypsies and Travellers second class citizens under housing law and has been the subject of numerous legal challenges which have resulted in Britain being internationally criticised for breaching the human rights of Gypsies and Travellers.
In May 2004, the European Court of Human Rights found that the eviction of an Irish Traveller by the name of Mr Connors from a local authority Gypsy and Traveller site in circumstances where he was not given the chance to present his defence in court, breached article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life and home). In November 2004, the Government accepted that they would have to change the law to ensure that such breaches did not occur in the future.
“It then took the Government until late 2007 to announce that they intended to achieve this aim by extending the provisions of the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to local authority sites simply by amending one sentence in the act that excluded local authority sites from the provisions of the law,” says solicitor Chris Johnson of the Travellers Advice Team.
Having spent the last three years consulting with Gypsies and Travellers about the change to the law, earlier this month the Department for Communities and Local Government informed them that it had now run out of time to do so. In an email on February 10th, the departments Gypsy Unit stated:
“Unfortunately, due to pressure on Parliamentary time leading up to the general election, slots could not be found to debate the Statutory Instruments that would bring Local Authority sites into the Mobile Homes Act. ...Sorry for the bad news, obviously we are disappointed as a lot of work has gone into this.”
But Gypsy and Traveller campaigner are not letting the matter rest there. Chris Johnson of the Travellers Advice Team is working with campaign groups Friends, Familes and Travellers, the UK Association of Gypsy Women and the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group to find someone living on a council site to challenge the decision in the courts.
“The Travellers Advice Team are keen to hear from Gypsies and Travellers on local authority sites who are interested in challenging this disgraceful Government U turn,” says Chris.