Council Lobbies For Positive Changes To Park Home Regulations (published 16.02.12)
Teignbridge District Council has taken a stand for the rights of Park Home residents, lobbying for major changes to regulations and laws which affect Park Home sites in response to a Government inquiry about their management.
The district has 1154 Park Homes across 54 sites, one of the highest proportions of any district in the country. It has a lot of experience enforcing site conditions and improving conditions for residents, which under current laws can be time-consuming, expensive and ineffective. The council says key measures are missing, such as a full application process to be able to run sites, the ability to turn down site license applications, a range of enforcement options other than formal prosecution, tighter controls on the reselling of homes, better protection for tenants renting mobile homes, and measures to reduce fuel poverty.
Under current laws and subject to a current planning permission being in place, councils are unable to refuse a licence application to run a site. This means that even if an applicant has a previous conviction under the Caravan and Control of Development Act 1960, this cannot influence the decision to issue a licence. This is compounded by only being able to enforce license conditions about maintaining sites by prosecuting site owners. This means that minor breaches can go unchallenged, or if they are tackled it means a time-consuming and expensive court case. The council believes that in many instances the money spent by owners defending these prosecutions would be better spent doing the required work on their sites.
In its response to the Government, Teignbridge argues that a range of enforcement options, such as the ability to serve formal notices requiring work to be done, would be a better alternative. It also says that councils should be free to step in and manage sites directly if there are major problems, and calls for a single set of standards to apply across the country, ending differing site requirements across district borders. At the moment site owners who operate sites in different districts cite this inconsistency and confusion over the rules as a big contributing factor to things going wrong.
Cllr Philip Vogel, Teignbridge Executive Spokesperson for Housing and Planning said:
"Park Home residents can be among our more vulnerable citizens, often they are older people who might not have all the support they need to deal with site owners. It's therefore unacceptable that the rules governing Park Homes are so inconsistent and lack the powers we need to make life better for residents.
"Our proposals would also benefit the majority of respectable site owners and managers who are often thwarted by changing goalposts across districts and a lack of formal guidance on legal, financial and health and safety issues. Good site owners should not feel that a few give them a bad name.
"Among other things we don't think it's fair that someone renting a mobile home isn't covered by the Housing Act, when even house boats have been brought under the Act before. We're also concerned that site owners can benefit from a high turnover of residents as they get sale commission on their homes, giving less scrupulous owners very little incentive to work with residents and help make things right when problems occur. On top of this, residents may be limited to using only bottled or liquid gas as their only source of fuel in rural areas, without any way of comparing costs and buying fuel in a competitive market, or taking advantage of any discounts or subsidy schemes.
"All in all we think the current system means a rough deal for residents, respectable site owners and councils alike. It wouldn't be difficult to put a lot of this right, but we need the Government to sit up and take notice of these issues."
Also in the council's response is a call for a system which would let residents and potential residents compare different Park Home sites on a like-for-like basis to help them choose the right place for them. Such a system would include comparisons of things like ground rent, the number of prosecutions against the site and more, helping people make an informed choice.
Avril Knapman is the owner of Grange Park in Abbotskerswell, which has 6 park homes on the site.
Mrs Knapman said:
"I like to work with the council and my residents to make sure things are done professionally. It is a shame that a small minority of site owners give others a bad name. I would certainly support clearer rules for owners and would like to see a body like A.C.A.S set up to be legally binding on all parties in disputes, instead of the expensive and ineffective system of court action. This should protect peoples' rights and homes and the work and cost of site owners to make a good site."
The Communities and Local Government Committee announced its inquiry in December 2011, but has yet to confirm timeframes for considering responses and making recommendations.