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Friday 15 November 2019

Dale Farm eviction: travellers to learn fate this morning

Richard Alleyne

Irish Travellers living at Dale Farm in Essex will today learn if they are to be evicted from their site as the High Court in London hands down a crucial ruling.

On Monday, as bailiffs from Basildon Council prepared to move in, travellers at Britain's largest illegal site won a last-gasp injunction postponing any clearance.

Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart expressed concern about the terms of the evictions and asked the local authority to serve a notice on the residents specifying what was proposed for the site.

That has now been done and the High Court is expected to make its final decision on the stand-off before midday.

The leader of Basildon Council, Tony Ball, this morning said if the injunction is lifted evictions are unlikely to begin until Saturday.

Mr Ball said: “There will be significant activity if the injunction is lifted. We need to get the site cleared. Everyone agrees there has to be resolution to this.” Bailiffs working for Basildon Council had planned to start the clearance of the six-acre site on Monday, but the operation was postponed while the legal wrangling was resolved.

Mr Ball said he was frustrated by the delay but added he was convinced the injunction would be overturned once the authority presented the full facts.

The clearance of Dale Farm follows a decade-long row over unauthorised pitches. There are 34 legal pitches on the neighbouring Oak Lane site.

Many travellers had left the site in anticipation of the clearance but have returned this week in the hope they will be allowed to remain.

Meanwhile it has emerged that families at the site are still being paid housing benefits by the council trying to evict them.

Rent and council tax rebates are being paid to around 25 of the "households" on Dale Farm, Basildon Council has confirmed.

The council, which is spending £18m to clear the illegal site, has defended its position saying that the needy are entitled to a claim even if they do not have planning permission.

A council spokesman said the maximum travellers could now claim was £25 a week in housing benefit and £845 a year for council tax.

"People are entitled to make a claim even if the property they are renting does not have planning permission," she said.

The council had been paying full rent to many more static homes but this had been stopped around two years ago.

However, the council has confirmed it still pays out 25 claims on the illegal site and a further nine to an adjacent site that is legal but has been virtually unoccupied for months.

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