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Irish travellers at British camp still receiving benefits although site declared illegal

Families at Britain's biggest unauthorised travellers camp are still being paid housing benefits by the council trying to evict them – even though it has deemed their homes illegal.

Yesterday the council defended its position saying that the needy are entitled to a claim even if they do not have planning permission

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

That is despite a 10-year legal battle deciding that the homes in Essex are illegal because they are built on greenbelt land without planning permission.

Yesterday the council, which is spending £18m (€20.5m) to clear the illegal site, 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.

Tony Ball, the council leader, said: "I don't remember saying all claims had stopped, but was advised a number of claims were stopped."

About 15 mobile chalets on the site are rented out by C Jenkin & Son, a company based in West Sussex.

A spokesman for the company said around six of its units were funded by the council through housing benefits.

Other mobile homes are rented out by travellers on the site and in some cases ground rent is also covered where a traveller lives on a pitch owned by a different person.

Len Gridley, 52, a neighbour, said: "This all needs investigating. How can nine people be claiming benefits for the legal site when it is practically empty."

Travellers defended their right for the needy among their community to receive housing benefits, saying most people at Dale Farm were British citizens and entitled to the help.

Stuart Hardwick Carruthers, a supporter of the camp, said: "My best description of the illegal side of Dale Farm is that it is a sort of sink estate for travellers.

"It is where the elderly, girls who got into trouble, the unemployable, etc live."

He said it was madness that the council was trying to remove people who it was paying to live there, and showed why they should be allowed to stay.

Meanwhile the council is challenging a last minute injunction stopping it evicting people from the six acre site near Clays Hill.

Bailiffs were expected to start moving the families off in what has been dubbed the Battle of Basildon on Monday.

But a High Court judge ruled they still had more explaining to do before they could go in.

The gipsies themselves have vowed to stay, no matter what the ruling.

The council is confident the courts will rule in their favour and they are preparing to start evictions today.