The Government’s plan to introduce a caravan tax on static as well as mobile caravans, reduced by U-turn from 20% to 5% VAT, brought much needed attention to the mobile homes industry, which has been quietly growing over the last few years.
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has been holding an inquiry into ‘park homes’ and their report is published this morning. It shows an industry urgently in need of reform and regulation to protect residents from malpractice.
Government figures indicate around 160,000 people live in 84,000 park homes on 1,950 sites in England. Most residents are retired or elderly, with 68% aged 60 or over. Most permanent park home residents own their ‘mobile’ home (they are mainly in fact static) but not the land on which it sits; they pay a pitch fee for occupation and the use of services on the site.
The report identifies problems such as ‘sale blocking’ where site owners withhold approval of a prospective buyer to force the vendor to sell to them at a reduced price; harassment and intimidation by site owners; an inadequate licensing system; and unclear contractual agreements.
The Committee recommends sweeping changes to modernise the law and deal with ‘rogue elements’, including removing site owners’ right to approve new buyers, a modern licensing regime with stronger penalties for non-compliance, and clearer obligations on site owners in relation to maintenance and management, including safety and security.
The Committee supports the direction of travel indicated by the Government in its April 2012 consultation on a better deal for mobile home owners and Grant Shapps in turn welcomed the Committee’s report. How nice it is to be on the same side as him for a change!
This could be a rare occasion when there is cross-party agreement on new regulation and broad support from the industry’s representative bodies as well. There is even the prospect of early new legislation as Peter Aldous, Tory MP for Waveney in Suffolk, has secured a place for a private members’ Bill in the House of Commons ballot. With all-Party support the Bill might have a good chance of becoming law and a few wrongs will be righted.
Although this unanimity is to be welcomed if it leads to action, it would be missing a trick to fail to point out that some very similar arguments apply to the problems faced in the private rented sector, where the Government has set its face against effective new regulation.