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Is it legal… to live in your car?

The possibility of living in a car has often crossed our minds here at the Recombu offices – some of us because of nagging spouses, others annoying mother-in-laws and some because of a burning desire to sell our property in exchange for a a shiny new sports car. But is it actually legal to live in one’s own vehicle?

Let’s define ‘living’, shall we?

We’re talking about properly living in your car, not sleeping rough for a couple of nights because the wife’s kicked you out. Our vision is one that involves selling your fixed abode; using the cash to buy a Lamborghini Aventador, swapping your pillow for an airbag and sleeping with a handbrake poking you in the ribs for the rest of the foreseeable future.

Where would I sleep?

There are three different types of site a Zonda-owning homeless person may choose to dwell: council sites, private sites and unauthorised sites. Unauthorised sites are pretty self-explanatory – they’re basically car parks, streets and other public places. The land will likely be owned by the local council or a private company and they are unlikely to have a licence for ‘encampment’ – in other words letting people sleep there. Park here for a kip and you risk being hassled by security guards, police, angry residents or all three. 

There are council- and privately-owned sites that welcome vehicle dwellers, but they’ll cost you. You’ll be subject to a ‘pitch’ fee — anything between £6-10 per night, depending on the season — which lets you rent the land your vehicle sits on. You’ll also pay service charges to cover the costs of the communal facilities and lighting, although you may be able to strike a deal that allows you to poo in the woods and shower using wiper fluid, if money’s tight.

There are approx. 5,000 council sites around the UK, however these are often near landfill, motorways or other undesirable land liable to flooding etc. These sites, without being disrespectful, may also be full of ‘undesirables’ so rocking up with a new Jaguar XKR-S or similar may get you a lot of ‘negative attention’, by which we mean a violent kicking. An armoured vehicle with all-wheel drive is advisable.

I don’t want to get robbed

Private sites, of which there are around 7,000 in the UK, might be a safe bet. These tend to be holiday sites, or they are owned by travellers themselves. They have mod-cons, such as washing and cooking facilities, but they usually don’t want travellers or gypsies as patrons, even those living in a Ferrari, so they may cap the number of nights you can stay or refuse you entry.

What if I don’t want to leave?

It’s a free country, right? Wrong. If you’ve no permission to sleep on a council or private site, police can and will ask you to move on since you are effectively trespassing. Having a large group of people in a similar situation won’t help you, either (Dale Farm, anyone). Section 61 of the Public Order Act 1994 states that police can move you on if they believe you’re trespassing on land with the common purpose of residing there for any period.

Can I sleep in my car on the street?

Living in your car on a quiet B-road might sound appealing, but that’s not strictly legal, either. If somebody spots and reports you to the local authority, you’re buggered. Councils may view this as unauthorised encampment and have powers to remove unauthorised campers (even if they’re in a McLaren 12C Spider) if it appears that they are ‘residing in a vehicle or vehicles within that authority’s area on any land forming part of a highway, on any unoccupied land or on any occupied land without the consent of the occupier.’

Even if it doesn’t get as far as council intervention, police take a dim view of people sleeping in cars and will likely breathalyse you because they think you’ve fallen asleep in a car while unfit to drive. If you’ve had a night cap before ‘bed’, you can expect arrest.

Any other pitfalls?

You need to keep a good friend, a really good friend – one that’ll let you use their postbox. The DVLA require your licence to be updated with your address each time you move. However, if you live in your car, or mobile home, you must register with them using a ‘care of’ address where you can pick up the post. Most mobile home owners register against the campsite address and those that run the campsite pass the post on to the individual motor homes.

So is it legal?

Yes, so long as you park your home-slash-car in an authorised area. Get yourself to a dedicated gypsy site or get permission from a private land owner and you’ll be fine, in theory. The sites we spoke to said they wouldn’t consider taking on a person living in a car (even a flash one) but you may have better luck, especially if you can convince the owner you’ll take them for a spin in your Ferrari-cum-bedroom every day. The question of whether sleeping in a car is preferable to sticking around at home is wholly subjective, but having looked into it, we’re erring on the side of bricks and mortar.

Image: Flickr (ginger)

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