Irish Travellers camping illegally at Dale Farm in Essex continue to receive thousands of pounds in housing benefits by the council orchestrating an ongoing legal battle to have them evicted.

Basildon Council pays out as much as £53,625 a year for 25 families at the 51-pitch site which the authority says they are entitled to, even though they have not gained planning permission.

Two years ago council leader Tony Ball announced benefits for mobile home rent paid to Dale Farm families had been stopped but has since confirmed he may not have had all the information.

"I don’t remember saying all claims had stopped, but was advised a number of claims were stopped," he told the Daily Mail. "If I did say that, it was based on the information I was given at the time and said in good faith."

Dale Farm residents can claim up to £25 a week in housing benefit and £845 in council tax – the equivalent of a band B property.

An eviction at the former scrap yard was due to start on Monday but was stopped by a last-gasp High Court injunction over a technicality. Basildon Council will argue its case on Friday and hopes to continue with the site clearance later that day.

The heavily fortified gate at the only entrance was opened yesterday to comply with health and safety regulations about access for emergency vehicles. It is understood it will be replaced with a mobile barrier of vans.

A dozen caravans entered the site shortly after a pneumatic drill had been used to smash the concrete that was keeping the 30ft barrier in place.

Travellers claimed families were returning as they now felt it was safe for children to stay at the camp.

But others said the vehicles were returning from nearby empty legal pitches.

A source said: 'They broke into the plots on the legal side on Saturday and they are worried about what the owners will do to them if they come back and find their plots occupied.

'There is a feeling that they would rather take their chances with the bailiffs than risk all-out war with the English travellers who own plots on the legal side.'

The traveller in the first van to return said: 'I am not leaving again. Not until [council leader] Tony Ball has lost his job and [outspoken local resident] Len Gridley is dead in a coffin.'