Mobile Homes Bill – Second Reading – 19 October 2012
Today (Friday 19 October) we are hoping to change the law for people who live on park home sites.
Up to now they have been living under different legislation to protect their sites as places to semi-retire to. But that’s not how it works anymore.
There are about 80,000 people in the UK who live in a park home as their main residence. These aren’t holiday parks. Eight of these sites are in my constituency. They are set outside villages, very quiet and isolated places.
People sell their homes after their children grow up and buy one of these park homes. Some of the sites are beautiful. Little pots of plants, tall mature trees, green spaces and communal areas with streams and rocks and benches
The homes can be very spacious. But you only buy the unit, and like a leasehold, the ground on which the home sits belongs to the site owner.
Not so long ago, in the last generation, owning these sites was a matter of pride. Ownership passed from father to son. Owners lived on site, usually on houses adjacent to the park, and brought up their families to understand the needs of the people who lived on these parks.
The residents would get very old. Then there would be the inevitable loss of a partner and then many of those left behind would need looking after until they died or had to move into a home.
Most sites have a rule that only those aged 50 and over can live there. And in order to ensure that park home sites didn’t get the wrong sort moving in, to help keep these places safe and together, the site owner was given the legal right to veto a purchase. It was to stop people selling their units to the highest bidder, no matter what the impact was on the other residents. It was sensible social engineering in the days when the site owners cared for the people who lived on their parks.
The owners worked with the utility companies, water, electricity, gas, and made a deal with them. They would buy bulk and give cheaper utilities to the people who lived on the site.
One fixed amount every month for the ground rent would cover all their bills plus maintenance and repairs on the site. And the ground rent was not so much in the old days.
But the last generation has died now. Their children don’t have the same interest in looking after older people and the sites don’t make much money. Not if you really look after them. It’s a living but not a luxurious one.
So the children sold the sites and moved on. And the people who bought them weren’t social workers. They wanted to make money. The only way you could really do that was to behave badly. And some of them behave very badly indeed.
At the moment, it is the local council that is supposed to enforce a park home licence. But the only real sanction they have is to withdraw the licence and that means everyone would have to move out. It’s a power that they would never enforce.
The owners know that, so what they do is this: An elderly couple that has lived for over 30 years on one of these sites becomes ill. He dies. She declines. She becomes very fragile.
The owner comes to her unit in the dead of night and bangs on her door, knocks on her window, rattles something, cuts the heads off her tulips. He doesn’t have to do this for very long. She calls the police. They have far better things to do than to visit a senile old lady who is hearing noises.
She tells her neighbours. They stop talking to her because they don’t want the same thing to happen to them. They know she’s telling the truth. It gets so bad she can’t take it anymore. She puts her much-loved home on the market. It’s valued at around £100,000. She has put it on the market for much less and buyer after buyer puts in an offer. The site owner vetoes every one.
But every night he creeps round to her unit and bangs on the windows and rattles the doors.
Soon she receives a letter from him offering her a tenner for her unit. She accepts and moves out the next day. She moves to a care home where she dies soon after. She moves out and leaves everything, all her belongings, her treasured ornaments and photographs, her clothes.
He dumps it all in black sacks. Everything that meant something. He leaves the furniture and the next buyer pays well over the price to buy the fittings.
Owners no longer break down the ground rent bill for utilities. They are still buying in bulk but they are the monopoly supplier of utilities to the site. They can charge what they like, and they do.
And maintenance of the site? In the snows over the last few years, the residents asked for some grit. They’d spread it themselves, they said, but the old owner would always keep the grit bins stocked.
Grit bins? He took those the same day, and that evening a big sign appeared outside the unit he works from. ‘Grit for Sale’ at a price that was double what you’d pay on the open market. And people bought his grit because they are old and scared of ice and snow. They are afraid of slipping over. But with every bag he sold, someone paid with their dignity.
After surgery one night, I drove over to one of the park homes in my constituency to see Molly. She had moved to the site about five years ago. Her sister lived on this park with her husband.
The unit is large, for a park home. And it has been immaculately decorated. “I used to be a designer. Curtains, mainly.” I can see, I say. Big heavy fluted drapes with complicated beading. “I’ve done bits in Parliament, in No10. I’ve worked for celebrities. I used to run my own business.”
When we got back to the sitting room, she said, “I used to be so strong. And now look at me!” She broke down. She showed me the spots, the terrible rash all over her skin.
“And my sister’s husband has died. Terrible. Every morning I have to see her and bring her food. If I don’t make her eat, if I don’t watch her do it, she’ll not, you know.”
“So what are your plans?” I asked.
Molly explained that when she first moved onto the site, old Mr Bateman still owned it. And he was lovely, really looked after them.
“But then, almost in the month when we moved here, someone else bought the site. He is horrible!” And she burst into tears again.
“We had this lovely big plot and we put our caravan just outside the garage. You couldn’t see it from anywhere, but he came on the first day and said “Move it or I’ll tow it!” Like that. Not, please could you or anything. And it terrified me. No-one had ever spoken to me like that. And we had nowhere to put our caravan. So my son fetched it and sold it. And now we don’t go away anywhere.”
After five years of making their lives miserable in various small ways, especially Molly’s sister’s, Molly decided she’d had enough. They wanted to move away. And after her brother-in-law had died, her sister wanted to move away as well.
But when the estate agent put his board up, the site owner was straight round with his saw and chopped it down. Both of them. He said the park rules said no boards, no advertising.
Molly put a tiny piece of A4 in the window. “FOR SALE inquire within”. He wanted that down too but Molly held firm.
That day she was driving out of the park to go shopping and the site owner was in his car driving towards her. He put his foot down on the accelerator and swerved just at the last minute. It really shook Molly up. He banged on her window and started screaming and shouting at her. She said she went back home and had to go to bed. She was so distressed.
Two days later she got a letter from him complaining about her barrage of “pig-ignorant” verbal abuse. Molly with her perfect hair and perfect manners would never speak impolitely to anyone.
Molly told me that he’s been vetoing buyers. One he said had a dog. Against park rules. Others have dogs on site. One couple he said he didn’t like the look of. “Not the right sort.”
And he’s been even worse with Molly’s sister.
“I just want to go to bed and die.”
What should be an idyllic way to spend your retirement has become hell for many residents.
Our Park Homes Bill tomorrow will stop site owners from vetoing sales, will give local councils greater powers to force site owners to hold to their licence, to do the repairs and maintenance, and the fines for not doing so will be limitless.
It may not seem like the most important bill going through Parliament but it is one that will change the lives of 80,000 over 50s living on a park home site.