Annette Brooke MP writes: Progresss at last for park home owners?

Many of you will know that I have been campaigning on park home issues for many years. Working with Sonia McColl, a constituent and founder of the Park Home Owners Justice Campaign, I have been trying to raise awareness and press the Government to take action over the issue of unscrupulous park owners.

The campaign to end injustices for park home owners and close loopholes in the 1983 Mobile Homes Act has been long running. These loopholes allow some park owners to interfere with the selling of homes and abuse their position by using interviews to put off and intimidate prospective buyers. This can lead to the property not being sold, and as a result being bought by the park owner at a fraction of its true value.

Previous governments have not been quick to take action, but finally, we are seeing movement on this issue. Consumer Focus has been undertaking in-depth research into the abuses taking place on parks across England and Wales. The Communities and Local Government Select Committee have been undertaking an official inquiry, hearing evidence from stakeholders and Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister. And the Department for Communities and Local Government has finally published “A better deal for mobile home owners”- a long awaited consultation document on Park Homes.

I welcome this consultation. There is clear evidence of listening and recognising the depth and breadth of the problems existing in the industry, and a determination to stamp out the bad and in some cases criminal practices that go on.

The consultation covers my number one priority, which is to stop sale blocking. Currently, site operators can make contact with prospective purchasers and deter them. Eventually, the home owners are forced to sell the park home back to the site operator for a reduced rate, and the site owner can then sell it on for a large profit.

The consultation document offers three options to prevent this:

A)     the requirement to obtain the site operator’s approval of a purchaser would be abolished

B)      the purchaser would be deemed to be approved unless, on application of the site operator, a residential property tribunal declares him unsuitable

C)      the approval requirement would remain in place, but where there is evidence of abuse, the home owner could apply to a residential property tribunal for the tribunal to exercise that role instead of the site operator

I believe that the first two options would significantly improve the current situation. During his recent evidence session in front of the DCLG Select Committee, the Minister Grant Shapps explained that without sale blocking, it would be very hard for site owners to exploit parks for financial gain and there would therefore be little point in them conducting intimidation or harassment against home owners.

Other important areas in the consultation focus on giving local authorities a bigger role and increasing penalties against site owners who commit offences. As the Minister explained during his select committee evidence session, these proposals are designed to price the rogue out of the market. Proposed changes include:

  •  ensuring compliance with site licence conditions by enabling the courts to impose unlimited fines on operators who do not manage their sites properly
  • allowing local authorities to make a reasonable charge on site operators for their licensing services, which they are currently unable to do
  • giving local authorities the power to carry out works on sites in an emergency or where the site operator has been found guilty of a breach of the licence, and charge the cost back to them
  • changing legislation to improve other residents’ rights to reflect their status as home owners by, for example, allowing them to carry out home improvements without seeking permission.

I am pleased to see that one of my suggestions, for a requirement on site owners to lodge their site rules with the local authority, is included.

As expected, the fit and proper person rule is not included. At the evidence session, Mr Shapps explained that the Department felt that it was a non-starter as the site owner could just give the ownership to another family member or to a company they are involved in. I do hope that the Department can be persuaded to include this as an add-on, as it does seem ludicrous that a person found guilty of intimidation and harassment can continue as a site owner. But, personally I would not want to lose the chance of helping vulnerable park home owners by sticking out for something that the Government at the end of the day will not support in future legislation.

All in all, this does look to be a robust package of measures which DCLG thinks will work. Grant Shapps has stated that the Government is compelled to act as some of the abuses taking place are so serious. During the inquiry, he informed the select committee that the Department hoped to have things in place ahead of the Private Member’s Bill ballot, in the hope that these changes could be advanced through Parliament in a Private Member’s Bill. He did add that he hasn’t ruled out advancing these proposals in Government time. We now need to keep the momentum going, by responding to the consultation as strongly as possible, and by keeping pressure up on the Government so that these sensible proposals are carried forward into legislation.

* Annette Brook is the Liberal Democrat MP for Dorset and North Poole.

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  • This is very good news indeed for the tens of thousands of park home owners who have had totally inadequate protection until now. For many people of limited means, park homes offer the only viable retirement accomodation which gives them independence, but too many have had their lives blighted by unscrupulous site owners. In some cases, intimidation and fraud have been uncovered, so while I agree that we shouldnt let it hold up other reforms, we should still fight for a “fit and proper person” test for site owners.

  • winifred blake 19th Sep '12 - 11:49am

    The changes to the law on park homes cannot come quick enough for many residents on this park myself included as we have had ten years of this bullying and intimidation as we are all seniors here we should not have to live out the rest of our lives under these sort of conditions. Have approached local council Mp and now the police and still cant see an end to this situation .

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