Stephen Gilbert MP writes… Welcome news for park home residents

We all deserve a safe and secure place to live. But all too often for the 160,000 people living in park homes up and down the country the reality fails to live up to the utopian dream offered in the marketing brochure.

For those readers not familiar with the term, a ‘park home’ is a static caravan. Usually found grouped together in modestly sized communities (2,000 of them in all) often by the coast or in areas of natural beauty. This ‘peaceful’ life primarily attracts the retired, the elderly and the infirm – often seeking more peaceful surroundings to live out their golden years.

Of course, the majority of the site owners are honourable and well-intentioned individuals. But, dig down into the day to day lives of a handful of residents and what’s uncovered are a multitude of horror stories and legal status lacking in regulation and weighted in favour of the site owner not the home owner.

These stories would shock anyone irrespective of the context, but when you consider the often vulnerable nature of the residents involved they become nothing short of harrowing. Take the case of a resident whose site owner was so keen for her to move out (to take advantage of advantageous rates of selling the plot on) that he set her home on fire as a means to force her out. All her worldly possessions gone and this elderly lady left homeless. It’s no way to treat anyone.

Of course, this example involves a criminal act and in this case action could be taken, but there are hundreds – if not thousands – more cases of bullying, harassment and intimidation by site owners looking to make a quick buck. That’s all before you even consider the unfair monopoly that site owners have over the supply of utilities to the homes, or the unregulated year-on-year fees, or the practice of blocking private sales so a resident wishing to move has no option but to accept a below market offer from the site owner who can go on to sell at great profit.

Since becoming an MP, I’ve taken on the fight for these residents. Back in 2010 I, alongside fellow Lib Dem Annette Brooke, secured a backbench business debate about Park Homes after which our own Lib Dem Minister Andrew Stunell promised that the Government would take action (and indeed, earlier this year the Government launched a consultation into the industry and its practices). Back in January I also tabled a 10 Minute Rule Bill which would have introduced a fit and proper person test for site owners (similar to the regulations placed on the HMO industry), sadly Parliamentary time did not allow for its progression.

But, the issue didn’t disappear from Parliament’s agenda altogether. Earlier this year the Communities & Local Government Select Committee, which I sit on, launched an inquiry into the park home industry.

It became immediately clear that the current legislation is inadequate and that measures need to be taken now to drive the worst offenders out.

Following the inquiry the committee has now published its report which includes a series of recommendations for industry reforms which would bring this malpractice to an end. The recommendations include bringing forward urgent primary legislation to end sale blocking by remove the site owner’s right to approve prospective buyers of park homes, introducing additional powers for the Residential Property Tribunal to award uncapped fines against unscrupulous site owners, and making the obligations of site owners in regard to maintenance and security clearer with enforcement taken against owners not meeting those obligations.

Finally, I was especially pleased to see the committee recommend a tighter rein be placed on the licensing of these sites to ensure they are suitable, safe and secure and further measures to introduce a fit and proper person test – similar to my proposal earlier this year – should site owners not clean up their act.

These measures, and the others in the report, are welcome news for the many thousands of park home residents living in fear or suffering from unfair treatment from their site owners. These people are entitled to the same quality of life as you and I and it’s time that the Government stopped talking and started acting.

I hope that the new recommendations will be their first steps.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Good on you for pursuing this. My father was interested in downsizing to one of these places some years ago and I put him off because I knew some of them rip people off. Nice to see something’s (hopefully) being done about it.

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