Updated: Nov 8, 2022
As it seems harder and harder to find a cosy little spot for the night we thought we'd tackle the issue of "NO OVERNIGHT PARKING" signs and restrictions. As there are many different opinions out there, and there is no actual law preventing you from sleeping in your vehicle, it's no wonder it has most people’s heads in a pickle.
Back to school!
Let’s start with some basic knowledge; firstly, you’re not going to jail! Under the decriminalised scheme brought in by the Road Traffic Act 1991, when a vehicle is, for example, parked in a car park outside of controlled hours, it is said to be parked ‘in contravention of the regulations. Thus there are no offences, merely contraventions, this dictates the issue as a civil matter not a criminal one.
Secondly, there is a distinct difference between a privately-owned car park (this can mean either a private company, national trust, forestry commission or local authority - whoever may be the leaseholder of said space) and the public highway (roads, laybys and pull off areas).
Car parks are generally covered by off-street parking place TRO’s (Traffic Regulation Orders). These set out specific rules for the use of that space only and these orders may have clauses prohibiting sleeping, cooking, eating and may have height or weight restrictions. These signs are legally binding and must be adhered to, IF restrictions AND penalties are clearly displayed on the sign at that location.
The photo displays a legally enforceable sign and a non-enforceable sign to show you the difference.
You say potato, we say potahto?
The grey area begins on the public highway my friends. The quick, straight answer is - you are well within your legal rights to sleep within your vehicle. Part IX the Highways Act 1980 (Lawful and Unlawful Interference with Highways and Streets) gives local authorities and police certain powers to remove obstructions only. You are very unlikely to be asked to move on if you are not obstructing anyone or anything and do not stay for more than a day or two.
There are many different opinions on this subject, but we suppose the most important question is - how would this play out in a real-life scenario? For example, would a council pursue someone under these laws, and/or, what would be the process, consequences and outcome of such an action?
A previous FOI (Freedom of Information) request made to Cornwall Council in 2015 by a Mr David Bukhari, asked 13 questions which cover most of the legal factors any council would have to consider in pursuing such an action.
Although the request did not initially go well, with the Council simply sending copies of ‘Gypsy and Traveller Service, Managing Unauthorised Encampments Procedure’ and Gypsy and Traveller Service, Statement of Policy in relation to Unauthorised Encampments on land controlled and/or owned by Cornwall Council.’ There were no more documents given.
Mr Bukhari, not impressed by this reply, filed a complaint which heeded an apology and a full response.
The main points of the reply from Cornwall Council that are appropriate to note in accordance with this discussion are as follows –
1. Please clarify your policy regarding overnight sleeping in vehicles on the highway, road verge, lay-by, or car park, specifically Campervans/part conversions, Motor homes and HGV commercials.
We don’t have a highway policy as such. Part IX the Highways Act 1980 (Lawful and Unlawful Interference With Highways and Streets) gives us certain powers to remove obstruction, but it would be extremely difficult to make a case for someone causing an obstruction at 3 o’clock in the morning.
2. Please provide details of law used to enforce this policy.
Highways Act 1980 as above in terms of obstruction, but see comments in 1 above. I don’t think we’ve ever attempted to use it in this respect.
3. What areas, ie districts/specific roads/car parks are covered by this law and which are not?
Only the public highway.
4. Who is responsible for enforcing this policy?
In terms of the Highways Act, it would be Cornwall Council as highway authority.
5. What powers are available to them?
Only those defined in the Highways Act 1980.
6. What is the step by step method of dealing with a vehicle suspected of having been slept in?
The fact that it’s being slept in is irrelevant in highway terms.
7. What are the penalties for a proven offence, and who is liable?
For obstruction the penalties are listed in the Highways Act. For sleeping in a van – I don’t know.
8. With whom does the burden of proof lie?
For obstruction, we as highway authority decide.
9. What evidence is necessary to prove an offence or innocence?
For obstruction, we as highway authority decide. For certain sections of the Highways Act, the offending person can appeal against the decision.
10. What safeguards are in place to ensure that the principles of the Vagrancy act are not improperly applied to Gypsies and travellers or people who can give good account?. As specified in amendment s4
We don’t consider the Vagrancy Act. If someone is obstructing the highway, we deal with it under the Highways Act irrespective of who the offender is.
11. If the vagrancy act is being used, where are the reasonably accessible places of free shelter that suspected vagrants are directed to?
As 10 above.
12. Are the same principles applied to drivers of HGV vehicles, required to take rest periods by law?
As 10 above.
13. At South Fistral, Newquay, there are signs saying no camping or cooking. Please define cooking, with regard to this sign, and provide details of protocol, burden of proof, penalties and supporting law.
I don’t know the answer to this. It may well be a local bylaw.
14. Are those accused of offending obliged to say anything in their defence. Which Law requires this?
See 9 above.
Mr Bukhari then went on to ask –
Am I right in concluding that sleeping in a vehicle on the highway, or layby, verge, or council car park is not an offence. Presuming that the vehicle is not an obstruction?
Am I correct to assume any council agent or employee would be aware of this and that they would be acting outside their jurisdiction were they to claim otherwise?
The Council does not use the vagrancy act, and its employees and agents would be working outside their jurisdiction were they to claim otherwise. Is this correct?
The signs at South Mistral referred to in point 13 of the FOI request: I need a clear answer to that and to point 14 please.
Who exactly from the Council, or their agents, has the job of preventing people from sleeping in vehicles?
To clarify, if approached, how would one know if the person had the right to apply a wheel clamp, penalty ticket, or require them to move, as claimed? What identification would they carry?
To date these questions have not been answered!!! Make of that what you will. We do however intend to re-issue this FOI request and have these questions answered.
Full details of the FOI request are available here - https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/clarification_of_laws_and_policy
What we conclude from this
In short, It seems quite clear from the replies received from Cornwall Council, that they would not be able to request you to move your vehicle unless they could prove you were either - an obstruction as defined by The Highways Act 1980 - or that the duration of your stay could be deemed as attempted habitation of said land.
Under UK law, the burden of proof would remain with those making the complaint; meaning that these laws should not be able to be abused in areas where they are not formally and properly applied through correct signage and local bylaws!. We would also conclude from these responses that if you were issued a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) in an area without correct signage displaying bylaws and penalties, then your appeal against the charge would have a high chance of success.
The example we have looked at is from Cornwall Council and we in no way imply that this will be the policy of other Local Authorities. That said, general principals are general principals and while the regulations surrounding this subject remain hazy at best, it would appear that the law is more on your side than you may have thought.
How different it could be
With local towns struggling and the death of the High Street, you would think that attracting business would be a top priority for councils. Motor homers and campervanners are dependent upon a support network of local shops in towns and cities to facilitate their travels and provide the basic essentials they require.
We feel it’s high time that the government had a review of policy regarding the whole motorhome parking issue! Simply closing off areas and adding height barriers is not good enough anymore. This only serves to alienate local economies from residual income they would have had, whilst frustrating decent, hardworking mobile tourists.
Instead let’s have a look at practical solutions to the issues councils face, which mean they do not want to cater for motorhomes. Here are a few simple ideas gathered from forums and our members –
Honesty box schemes clearly work and benefit rural communities, why not have government assistance to help communities start an honesty box Aire scheme.
CCTV can be implemented in trouble spots and monitored from remote locations. Waste and tipping offenders could be fined for their actions, generating revenue for more clean-ups and teaching responsibility at the same time.
Many towns have park & ride car parks and overflow spaces for big events, these locations could be used as Aires in central locations.
The introduction of a law prohibiting habitable vehicles from occupying the same space for more than 3 consecutive days in a set period.
Without some form of public consultation the issue will continue to grow. With more motorhomes on the road than ever before are we heading for the huge problem of ‘nowhere to park’ in the UK?
Many European countries have introduced Arie schemes and are reaping the benefits from both increased tourism and fiscal turnover, we don’t see why the UK governments momentum seems to be going in the complete opposite direction. This will simply force billions in revenue to flow abroad to other more accommodating countries.
This seems to hold more poignancy during the Brexit negotiations, as the stated policy is to support the UK, not to enrich Europe.
We hope that this article has been helpful and will keep you updated on any further developments from FOI requests and so on.
We have also created a petition along with this article to see if we can’t get this issue raised in Parliament and get some communication regarding this matter. Please show your support by sharing this article and signing our petition http://chng.it/CHpZLnSBFH
The Campervan Bible Team
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