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Gypsies and Travellers

Gypsies or Romani are an ethnic group known for their nomadic lifestyle. There are an estimated 300,000 gypsies and travellers in the UK. They have been part of British society for over 500 years and have their own distinctive culture.

With their own language, beliefs, traditions in music, storytelling, poetry, art and design, and dance there is a rich history associated with gypsies and travellers. Some traveller communities use a language called Shelta or as it is sometimes known as the Cant.

They were often called ‘tinkers’ because historically many were skilled Tinsmiths, mending the metal pots and pans of local people as they moved from place to place.


  • Travellers (or gypsies) have the same rights as everyone else. Romani Gypsies can be traced back to the Indian subcontinent, whereas travellers are mainly of Irish and English origin. Both groups are legally recognised as ethnic groups under British law
  • They simply choose not to live in 'conventional' housing, but in caravans, tents or even tepees on land
  • Today around 50% of Gypsies and travellers live in caravans. They also live in houses but continue with their culture
  • A traveller is defined as homeless if they have nowhere they can lawfully leave their caravan or means of accommodation, such as a tent
  • As with anyone, if a homeless traveller is a priority need (see How to avoid Homelessness section for criteria) and is not intentionally homeless, the local authority has a legal duty to find them suitable accommodation
  • If the local authority receives a homeless application from a traveller, it must assess the traveller's aversion to conventional housing and see if it can facilitate their usual way of life by finding them a pitch. This should involve serious consideration of all available land, not just land owned by the local authority
  • Remember, you are entitled to the same rights as everyone else so seek expert advice if you are experiencing difficulties

Prejudice and Racism

  • The different practices within their culture have meant that gypsies and travellers throughout history have encountered discrimination and prejudice and this continues today
  • In terms of health and education, they are one of the most deprived groups in the Britain
  • As a recognised ethnic group they are protected from discrimination by the Race Relations Act (1976, amended 2000) and the Human Rights Act (1998)

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