Former Dale Farm travellers: Let us pay council tax

Southend Standard: Caravans in Oak Lane this week Caravans in Oak Lane this week

TRAVELLERS who ended up living illegally on the roadside after being evicted from the nearby Dale Farm site say they want to pay council tax.

Stuart Carruthers, an activist from Norfolk, is to meet the Government’s Valuation Office Agency next month to discuss registering 20 caravans as official households.

The move comes as a blow to Dale Farm’s neighbours, who have endured caravans parked illegally in Oak Lane, Crays Hill, since the £7million 2011 Dale Farm eviction.

Mr Carruthers has been involved in a High Court battle which last week saw a judge tell the families they could stay in the lane until a public inquiry is heard.

The campaigner  was also responsible for an 11th-hour injunction which delayed the 2011 eviction foramonth.

This week Mr Carruthers said: “The council got all the caravans removed from the council tax register after the eviction, but it is the caravan which is the household.

“They should have been reregistered, once they moved into Oak Lane. By not doing so, the council is losing revenue.

These people are ready and willing to pay the tax.”

He believes registration would help the travellers’ case at the forthcoming inquiry by showing there have been “households” registered in the Dale Farm area for more than ten years.

However Oak Road resident Len Gridley, 55, is outraged at the move. He suffered so many traveller-related problems officials even agreed to put his home in a cheaper council tax band.

He said: “The authorities should focus on moving the illegal caravans, not considering putting them back on the council tax list.”

About 50 illegal pitches on the Dale Farm site were billed for council tax by Basildon Council – even as the council worked to evict them.

They were all BandAproperties – the ones paying the cheapest council tax rate.

A council spokesman said it had previously considered registering the caravans in Oak Lane, but chose not to.

He added: “We came to the decision the roadside does not constitute a legal dwelling.

“In the case of making a caravan liable, it would be the pitch which was liable, not the caravan. There are no pitches in Oak Lane and they are therefore not liable for council tax.”

The final decision lies not with the council, but with the Government’s Valuation Office Agency.

An agency spokesman said: “We will review whether a council tax band should be applied to domestic properties – including permanently pitched caravans – when asked to by the local council or by the occupiers.”

The travellers could be allowed to stay on the privately- owned verges in Oak Lane.

Judge Mr Justice Clive Lewis has said even if the travellers lose at the forthcoming public inquiry into their right to stay, they would be able to appeal on human rights grounds.

Mr Justice Lewis’s judgment said even if it could be proved the travellers had no legal right to be on the land, a case could be put forward that it would be disproportionate to evict them by force.

Despite their battle to stay in Oak Lane and their refusal to accept the offer of council homes, travellers claim they don’t like living there.

One of them, Mary Sheridan, said: “I lived at Dale Farm eight years and was happy.

“But look at how we have to live now. We’re living in filth.”

Another traveller woman said mothers living in the lane had to use soapy water to wash the lane every few hours to fend off rats.

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