- Monday, 15 October 2012
In a new report ‘Living the Dream?’ Consumer Focus investigates the experiences of people living in park homes. The report highlights serious issues faced by some residents including sales processes, maintenance, security and safety problems; difficulties with energy and water supplies and unacceptable behaviour by park home site operators.
Consumer Focus is calling for a number of measures to improve the lives of residents who are often among the most vulnerable in our society.
“Park home” is the accepted name for a residential mobile home, installed on a site or “home park”. The Government estimates that around 160,000 people live in approximately 1,950 park home sites across England. Many people retire to live in a park home - the report highlights that the vast majority of residents are aged 61 and over, with more than a quarter aged 71 and over.
The report has been published just ahead of the Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons on Friday 19 October. Sponsored by Peter Aldous, MP, the Bill includes a number of recommendations to improve conditions for park home residents. Consumer Focus supports this Bill and hopes that it will tackle many of the issues that some park home residents currently face.
Gemma Bowen, Head of Consumer Focus Investigations said:
‘With this research we wanted to get a real picture of what it is like to live in a park home. Unfortunately, for many this will not be the dream home they imagined. Our research found that the lives of many residents’ were blighted by poor standards of maintenance, aggressive site operators, high living costs and over inflated bills.
‘The fact that many residents are older people makes this all the more concerning. Site operators have the power to vet potential buyers which gives some the opportunity to block sales. This practice can cause considerable financial loss and distress for sellers and the sales process of park homes must be reformed.’
Interviews were carried out by Consumer Focus with park home residents and local authorities and the findings reveal a number of areas of concern including:
- Sale blocking by the site owner. More than a quarter of residents (28 per cent) felt they could not buy and sell their homes freely. Residents can only sell their home after the incoming buyer has been approved by the site operator. Unscrupulous operators can use this veto to block purchases, and then sell the potential buyer one of the homes they own on the park. Alternatively, site owners can repeatedly block sales to then pressure residents to sell cheaply, often causing considerable financial loss.
- Problems with site owners such as residents being subjected to intimidation, pressure to leave, vandalism/damage to property, abusive behaviour and even violence. One in ten residents reported such problems and the report highlights that often this is not dealt with adequately by either the police or local authorities.
- Problems with water, gas or electricity supply. Park home residents tend to pay for their energy and water supply through the site operators and so have no direct contact with their energy supplier. Residents reported problems with their utilities including overcharging and water leaks.
- Issues with maintenance, security or safety standards on the site were reported by a quarter of respondents. Residents reported poorly maintained roads, inadequate lighting, missing gates and dumped rubbish.
Local authorities also told Consumer Focus that penalties are not severe enough for rogue site owners, and it is almost impossible to revoke a licence. The high costs of potential court cases against rogue site owners means that local authorities are reluctant to take action which might affect vulnerable residents.
‘Living the Dream?’ makes a number of recommendations which Consumer Focus would like to see implemented in the park homes sector. These include:
- Removing the right of site operators to approve prospective buyers.
- The introduction of a fit and proper person test for site operators, backed with the threat of stiffer economic penalties.
- Giving local authorities a wider range of enforcement tools to ensure site operators are prosecuted for serious breaches of site licence conditions.
- Clearer guidance and more information to be provided to residents, site operators and local authorities
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