Stephen Gilbert MP writes… Park home residents must be looked after properly

For us all, the home we live in is one of the most important factors in how we live our lives. Whether it be a house, a flat, shared accommodation, or – as it is for almost a quarter of a million people in the UK – a ‘Park Home’.

Park Homes are modern, bungalow-style residential properties usually sited on private estates. The park home industry is a billion pound business. There are over two thousand park home sites within the UK, primarily but not exclusively centred in rural areas like my constituency in Cornwall.

For the vast majority of the quarter of a million residents who reside on park home sites, their park home constitutes their only home. Most residents are elderly and many are vulnerable, with many park homes sites setting a minimum ‘near’ retirement age as a condition of residence. The industry heavily markets itself towards ‘property rich – cash poor’ senior citizens. The advertising paints a picture of like minded individuals forming small idyllic communities in which they will live out their twilight years in comfort and contentment, made all the better by the equity release that “upgrading to a park home” brings about. And for many this dream is a reality, but for a significant number the dream can turn into nightmare.

At the moment anyone can own a park home site, and as things currently stand a long criminal history or prior evidence of malpractice within the industry is no barrier to an individual buying and running a site. Unscrupulous site owners can make a quick profit by getting people to sell their homes at much less than they are worth and can bully, harass, intimidate residents into doing this. A recent survey found that almost two-thirds of park home residents reported living under unacceptable conditions and half said they were living under the regime of an unscrupulous park owner.

The last government promised to act and so has the Coalition, but so far we’ve seen little movement. In the absence of government action, I tabled a 10 Minute Rule Bill yesterday which proposes a two-stage process to better regulate this industry: local authorities would be responsible for issuing the “site licence” and monitoring it, which would cover such matters as the site’s suitability, amenities and services and a national licensing body would ensure site owners are “fit and proper”.

The national “fit and proper person” test would mean that bad behaviour by site owners in one place would bar them from owning a park home anywhere.

This is, by no means, a complete solution to all of the problems that the owners of these homes experience. We also have to tackle the monopoly that site owners have over utility provision, and the often unfair increases in ‘pitch fees’. My Liberal Democrat colleague Annette Brooke has done some outstanding work on this issue in the past and I will continue to work with her and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Park Homes to lobby the Government to introduce the proposals in this Bill and the other important suggestions that are being made.

Park homes are an important part of the housing mix and meet a real need – we need to make sure though that the regulatory regime properly looks after park home residents.

* Stephen Gilbert is Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay and chairs the Regional Aviation All Party Parliamentary Group

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  • Well done Stephen for badgering away at this issue. I have personal experience of helping park residents who are often bamboozled and harassed by park owners into throwing away what rights they do have. I have seen almost feudal behaviour by park owners, and as you rightly say they are often dealing with vulnerable people.

  • andrew purches 12th Jan '12 - 10:08am

    At last,at last,something might be moving here. In my own rural area of West Sussex, a long established,privately owned,haphazardly run Park Home estate was bought by a new owner from Kent. Immediately things changed, and a number of long term residents were winkled out of their homesteads for a very nominal compensatory sum of money and encouraged to seek rehousing from the local authority, which is what happened. Those residents who took on the new owner found themselves treated in a particularly heavy handed manner. In many cases,these Park Estates planning terms, holiday estates,where the owner occupants / pitch tenants have to go on” holiday ” for one,sometimes two months of the year,usually in January to establish the temporary nature of these establishments. This should be stopped, and the whole industry should be subject to all the controls and regulations that cover the provision of rented accommodation, even if that only applies to the rented nature of the site.

  • peebee and andrew are both right, and well done Stephen, don’t let it drop.
    In addition to the points covered above, there is also the inequitous Council Tax banding issue. Whilst some park homes can be palatial, an old style single unit is still charged at band A. Whilst adding Council Tax bands to tackle the Mansions there should also be new lower bands for the smaller mobile unit.

  • keep up the pressure on this one. I am Lib Dem group leader at East Cambridgeshire District Council. The authority is undertaking a core strategy review and Park homes have been seen as a form of affordable housing. I have personal experience through ward casework of elderly vulnerable residents being forced to sell their homes at far less than market value to site operator. one current case involves the owner ‘interviewing’ prospective purchasers so that unit owners cannot sell their home. Council officers will only involve themselves in enforcement such as fire and sanitation issues, it has proved to be impossible to get enough firm evidence for housing officers (overworked) to pursue harrassment claims. I believe that further planning permissions for park homes should be resisted until there is reform. Ian Allen.

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