COMMONS

Better regulation must protect Park Home residents from rogue operators warn MPs

20 June 2012

Legislation 'more suited to the 1960s' is failing to protect park home residents – most of whom are elderly - from exploitation by unscrupulous owners, says the Communities and Local Government Committee.

Launching the report of an inquiry into Park Homes, Clive Betts MP, Chair of the committee said,

"We received an exceptionally large body of evidence showing the Park Homes industry has been infiltrated by a rogue element and our recommendations are designed to drive these operators out of the sector.

While we recognise that there are some good site operators, the vast majority of the evidence we received suggests that malpractice is widespread across the sector: Complaints from residents about unfair fees, poor maintenance and site owners making it difficult for residents to sell their homes are common.

The Committee found that a quarter of park home residents had experienced problems with maintenance, security or safety standards; that nearly a fifth of residents had experienced problems with the written contracts they had with site owners; and that residents had experienced intimidation by site owners or managers at a significant number of sites in the UK."

Findings

The most widespread problems identified in the report include:

  • 'Sale blocking' - where a site owner prevents a resident from selling their home on the open market by withholding 'approval' of the prospective buyer. A site owner can then force vendors to sell their homes at a reduced price and before selling the existing home on, or a brand new home placed on the same pitch, at a profit;
  • Harassment by site owners, which appears to be on the increase. Preliminary research findings by Consumer Focus suggest that residents on sites owned by 28 different owners having experienced intimidation by site owners/managers. The Committee had to take the exceptional step of redacting names from the published evidence;
  • A licensing regime that is out of date which allows site owners to breach licence conditions with only a maximum fine of £2,500, a wholly inadequate deterrent;
  • Confusion over contractual obligations between site owners and home owners, and out of date legislation which leaves residents with little or no ability to take action if the site is not properly maintained.

Commenting on these findings Clive Betts MP added:

"The current legislation is beyond inadequate. It fails to deter unscrupulous site owners, fails to give local authorities effective powers to improve conditions, and fails to protect residents, many of whom are retired. Rules governing this sector have evolved piecemeal, and needs to be updated as soon as possible."

Recommendations 

The Committee recommends:

  • Legislation to remove a site owner's existing 'right to approve' buyers.  To compensate for this, sellers would have to make buyers aware of their obligations towards a site and its owner in writing before sale transactions take place;
  • Pending this legislation, clearer powers for the Residential Property Tribunal to award damages and compensation to park home owners affected by sale blocking;
  • Modernisation of the licensing regime to provide local authorities with powers similar to those used to regulate other forms of housing, and no upper limit on fines for non compliance;
  • New legislation to make site owner obligations clear, especially with regard to site maintenance, and to require the deposit of site rules (which can define obligations) with local authorities that are also given powers to enforce them.

The Committee welcomes the Government's consultation A Better Deal for Mobile Home Owners, but warns that more needs to be done:

Clive Betts said,

"The proposals set out by the Government should go a long way towards improving the sector – but we  need to make sure that new legislation works. The Government should commit to undertake a survey of the sector three years from now to ensure that changes are effective.

If the expected improvements do not happen, then the new legislation must provide a power for the Government to allow local authorities to withdraw and withhold licences from site owners found not to be ‘fit and proper’. This provision should be activated if that survey shows problems are persisting," 

Background information

According to the Government, about 160,000 people live in 84,000 park homes which accounts for 0.38% of the total housing in England. There are around 1,950 park home sites across England, concentrated in rural and seaside locations. Many residents are retired or elderly, with 68% aged 60 or over (ODPM, 2002).

The vast majority of park home sites are privately owned, with a small number owned by local authorities. Park homes have proved attractive to retired people wishing to release capital from the sale of a house and wanting  to find a pleasant and peaceful location with a sense of community to move into permanently. 

Emerging research findings provided by Consumer Focus include:

  • 25% of residents had experienced problems with maintenance, security or safety standards
  • 19% of people had problems regarding their written contracts or pitch fee agreements
  • Residents of sites owned by 28 different owners having experienced intimidation by site owners/managers

Further Information

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