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Gypsies and Travellers

Information about Gypsies and Travellers

General Information

Who are Romani Gypsies?

This group includes English, Welsh and Scottish Gypsies, and European Roma. Romani Gypsies have the longest known history of the Traveller communities with their roots being traced back to Northern India over 1,000 years ago. Their language is known as Romany or Rom.

Who are Irish Travellers?

The first Irish Travellers were recorded in the 8th Century as travelling metal workers and menders of household utensils. Their language is called Cant or Gammon. Many are of the Catholic faith although this has changed recently with many becoming Born Again Christians in the Light and Life Church.

Are they recognised under Equality Legislation?

Gypsies have a shared culture, language and belief system as do Irish Travellers and Scottish Travellers; the groups may be referred to as Travellers. They are recognised as separate ethnic minority groups under equality legislation. Additionally all public sector organisations including local authorities and police forces have a positive duty under the law to eliminate racial discrimination and promote equality of opportunity.

Do all Gypsies and Travellers travel?

  • Planning law defines Gypsies and Travellers as people with a travelling way of life. Whilst this is historically true, 90% of Gypsies and Irish Travellers now live in houses; this is partly due to the lack of site provision across the country. When Gypsies and Travellers live in houses their culture and heritage stays with them. You do not have to travel to be a Traveller. Whilst this is true, the new definition in planning will only consider those that continue to travel or have stopped temporarily.
  • Some groups are highly mobile, moving on when work opportunities have been exhausted and others live permanently in one area or only travel for a few weeks or months of the year.
  • Most Gypsy and Traveller families live within close-knit communities, whether in housing or on caravan sites, with strong family and social networks. Gypsies and Travellers now use modern, good quality vehicles and caravans, rather than the old fashion wooden vardo.
  • The main reason for travelling is to work, to follow fairs and visit family.

Why do Gypsies and Travellers need permanent sites?

Although Gypsies and Travellers travel for some of the year, during the winter months most people need a place to stop.

  • Travelling patterns are linked to the seasons and seasonal work. Gypsies and Travellers do not travel on a daily all year round. Families require safe and secure places from which to do their travelling. The ‘base’ site (if they have one) will usually be where they access GPs, schools and dentists.
  • As Gypsies and Travellers grow older and become less able to travel on a regular basis, some require a safe and secure stopping place where they can maintain cultural traditions. Gypsies and Travellers also sometimes stop travelling for periods of time to care for sick or elderly relatives or to continue a child’s education within a supportive school environment. Families will then take up the travelling way of life again following these critical events.

Why do Gypsies and Irish Travellers stop on the side of the road?

There are not enough authorised places to stop. Groups may be attending a family wedding or funeral in the area, or travelling through to one of the many horse fairs and need to stop. These are called unauthorised encampments.

The Government defines these as "encampments of caravans and/or other vehicles on land without the landowner or occupier's consent". Trespass is a civil rather than criminal offence.

Nationally, 21% of all Gypsies and Irish Travellers living in caravans are homeless. This means they have nowhere legal to park their caravan. One solution to this would be to provide permanent and transit sites. Transit sites are intended for short stays. Such sites are usually permanent, but there is a limit on the length of time residents can stay.

Do Gypsies and Travellers pay taxes and rent?

  • For Gypsies and Travellers living in housing, or on local authority or privately owned sites: they pay council tax, rent, gas, electricity, and all other charges measured in the same way other households.
  • For those moving around and staying on Unauthorised Encampments: they may have permanent accommodation elsewhere and will pay council tax there; or they have nowhere to put a caravan legally and will be classed as homeless. Homeless families do not pay council tax.
  • All residents within the UK pay tax on their purchases, petrol and road tax as do Gypsies and Travellers.

Will having Gypsy sites nearby increase crime and anti-social behaviour levels?

There is no evidence anywhere to suggest that this is the case. It should be remembered that individuals not communities commit crimes. There is no evidence at all that there are a disproportionate number of offenders within Gypsy and Traveller communities as opposed to any other communities. The police service has learned from past experience that it is wrong to create stereotypes that link particular crimes with ethnic or social groups.

In Cheshire, neighbourhood policing and the establishment of Gypsy and Traveller Liaison Officers has helped build greater trust. Many Travellers return to the same sites year after year and do get to know local officers and local people. There are far fewer unauthorised encampment issues across the county than there were five or ten years ago. (Cheshire Constabulary 2016)