In a number of cases in the mid-1990s taken under the Housing Act 1988 clarified the duty of local authorities to provide halting sites. In broad terms, the local authority was held to have a duty to provide sites for travellers. Under the 1988 Act, development plans must include objectives for the provision of traveller accommodation.
The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 made more specific provision for traveller accommodation. Local authorities were obliged to prepare and adopt traveller accommodation programmes specifying needs of travellers, provisions to address those accommodation requirements for a five year period. The Act also established a national and local travellers\’ accommodation consultative committee.
In making the assessment the local authority must take account of such matters as the Minister may direct. It shall give notice with local consultative committee and take account of their views.
The local authority must examine the need for temporary sites for use other than where travellers normally live or while awaiting permanent accommodation.
Local authorities must adopt an accommodation program specifying the accommodation needs of travellers and the provision of accommodation to address those needs. Where a housing authority fails to adopt an accommodation program or an amendment or replacement of it as required by the date specified, the manager may adopt a draft accommodation program or amendment or replacement of it subject within one month to any modifications which are in the opinion of the manager appropriate. The program must state the authority’s policy on how the accommodation needs are to be met and strategy for implementation of the program.
Nothing is to restrict the powers of the manager from exercising authority in emergency situations. Where there is an emergency situation which calls for immediate action without notifying elected members, emergency measures may be taken as are considered urgent and necessary having regard to public health, safety and other considerations. These powers may be exercised while the accommodation plans have not yet been finalized by the authority.
The Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act allows local authorities to make by-laws prohibiting temporary dwellings in their area. They may be prohibited if it is prejudicial to public health, amenities of a locality, could constitute a nuisance or interfere with traffic. It may constitute a nuisance if it is overcrowded or lack sanitary facilities.
Temporary dwellings may be removed under the 1992 Act. Travellers within five miles of an official halting sites may be moved to that site. The authority may require the removal of a temporary dwelling to a distance of one mile from an official halting site or travellers\’ accommodation if it is causing a nuisance to that accommodation or interfering with a public or private amenity or service.
It is an offence to fail to comply with a notice. The local authority may proceed to take the requisite steps to remove the temporary dwelling where the notice is not complied with. Possession of the temporary dwelling may be reclaimed on proof of ownership. If it is not reclaimed in a month, it may be disposed of, subject to certain conditions.
The 2002 Act provides that a person shall not enter or occupy land or bring on to any place any object, including a temporary dwelling where such entry or occupation is likely to substantially damage the land, affect an amenity or prevent persons from making reasonable use of land, render the land unsanitary, unsafe or substantially interfere with the land. Breach is an offence. The temporary dwelling may be removed and sold after a month.
In a number of cases, the courts have shown a willingness that find a failure to provide traveller accommodation may breach the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the State does not have a positive obligation to make provision for every traveller family. Where there are particular circumstances such as disability and dependent children a very poor offer of accommodation from the housing authority may be enjoined by court. Damages have been awarded against local authorities where a disabled traveller family was forced to live in an overcrowded and poorly maintained caravan.
The 1988 Act as amended by 1998 Act allows private housing authorities to provide and manage sites for caravans and persons who have traditionally pursued a nomadic way of life. Authorities may provide sites with facilities for use by persons otherwise than their normal place of residence pending permanent accommodation under a traveller\’s accommodation program.
The 1992 legislation gave special summary powers to remove temporary dwellings situated within five miles of a local authority provided, managed, or controlled halting site.