April 24, 2024

Park home demonstrators demand end to 10% sales fees – as litany of crooked practice reported to MPs

Around 80 park home owners converged on 10 Downing Street yesterday to deliver a blunt message demanding reform of their scandal-hit corner of the retirement housing market. The residents, mainly in their 70s, are furious at the skulduggerous behaviour of certain park home owners – and, truth be told, have little good to say about any of them.

The chief source of grievance is the 10% exit fee on sale taken by the site owners which residents claim is for no very precisely defined service whatsoever.

So, it is remarkably akin to the 1% exit fees in retirement housing, which prompted an Office of Fair Trading investigation and was dropped.

Initially, the demonstration – which was delayed first by the lack of a Conservative prime minister and subsequently by the Queen’s death – was to address the issue of pitch fees rising every year with Retail Price Inflation (RPI) instead of the less onerous Consumer Price Index (CPI).

But a private members bill by Sir Christopher Chope last week was taken up by government and hastened through the Commons with likely royal assent early in the New Year, this grievance is likely sorted out.

So the focus of the demo then switched to the 10% sale fees as well as the winter fuel subsidies.

Leading the demonstration was Sonia McColl OBE, the founder of the Park Homes Owners Justice Campaign, who had her own mobile home stolen in 2017 by two insider thugs who were subsequently jailed.

LKP ensured the theft had national coverage in the media, invited Sonia McColl to address the All-Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold and commonhold reform in December 2017 and helped raise £14,682 to help, as the mobile home was in transit and uninsured.

Also leading the demo was Tony Turner, and indefatigable champion of park home residents’ rights who is in the upper tribunal of the property chamber today over a case concerning the disclosure of accounts at his site.

We hope he is successful, with the courts doing anything silly with the legal costs if he isn’t – it is the threat of exhorbitant legal costs that close down most leaseholder / park home owner disputes.

Sir Peter Bottomley with park home champion Sonia McColl OBE and park home insurance broker Paul Baker at the demo outside Number 10
Sir Peter Bottomley and park home activists deliver their petition

The park home demonstrators delivered a petition to Number 10, headed by Sir Peter Bottomley, Father of the House and long term patron of LKP, who has championed their rights with the same dedication that he has done leaseholders’.

Later a meeting in the Palace of Westminster was held chaired by Sir Peter Bottomley and attended by an impressive number of MPs.

First, William Tandoh, the official at the Department of Housing, Communities and Levelling Up who deals with park homes, explained that all park home residents would be benefitting from the £400 subsidies for energy costs, or £200 for LPG and oil.

Government money would also be passed to site owners for electricity used the communal areas and that that “benefit will be passed on to the residents” – a statement greeted with incredulous laughter.

Justin Madders, who like Sir Peter Bottomley is a patron of LKP, spoke about the “the most unscrupulous people I have ever come across” who are in the park home business. About 160,000 to 180,000 pensioners use park homes as a retirement housing solution
The meeting of park home owners at the Palace of Westminster was attended by around 60 people and10 MPs from all parties

Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, perhaps explained the audience’s disbelief by saying that every month he encountered another park home buyer being duped by people who “you want not want to be within a million miles of people’s homes”.

He had absolutely no confidence that money entrusted to some park home operators would be passed on to the rightful recipients and added that park home operators “were some of the most unscrupulous people I have ever come across”.

His Labour colleague Mark Tami, MP for Alyn and Deeside, joined the meeting but did not speak, but there was a chorus of outrage from Conservative MPs present.

On the panel was MP Steve Brine, MP for Winchester and Chandlers Ford, who has been beset with park home scandals in his constituency.

Steve Brine MP is a Conservative MP in the shires who has seen the systemic exploitation in the park home sector – which is remarkably similar to the games played with flats under leasehold tenure
Former housing minister Heather Wheeler was among the MPs recounting tales of grief across the country. Her constituency is South Derbyshire
William Tandoh, of the Department of Levelling Up Communities and Housing had the unenviable task of handling the audience’s questions, but brought good news regarding the energy payments to park home owners
Tony Turner has been an indefatigable champion of park home owners’ rights – and is in the Royal Courts of Justice today demanding to see the accounts
Paul Baker is an insurance broker for park home owners and strongly indentifies with grievances of the residents
A park home owner’s recounts his experience of park home life, making clear that the vulnerable residents are almost completely under the control of the site owners
Ben Spencer, MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, spoke about his experience of the scandals of park homes. Quite a number of sites are in prime suburban areas such as his
Job done: Sonia McColl’s demonstration was twice postponed but a triumph nonetheless. No MPs are minimising these issues and all are mindful that park home residents – like leaseholders – will turn out to vote

First off among the other MPs who did speak was erstwhile, blink-and-you-missed-her former housing minister Heather Wheeler who detailed park home woes in her South Derbyshire constituency, as did Robert Courts, Conservative MP for Whitney and West Oxfordshire, Robin Millar, Conservative MP for Aberconwy, a new MP who referenced the heaps of case work on park homes issues passed on by his predecessor, Mary Robinson, Conservative MP for Cheadle, and Ben Spencer, MP for Runnymede and Weybridge. All of whom represent quite a decent geographic mix.

Only 160,000 to 180,000 park homes exist in the UK but they are responsible for a deluge of complaints to MPs of all parties, as Justin Madders confirmed.

LKP has long lamented its lack of detailed involvement in the issues, owing to paucity of resources, but one very good reason for all leaseholders to be interested is that brings the exploitative practices involved in a disempowered form of property tenure to shire Tory MPs in graphic and exaggerated form. They would, understandably, be less interested in purely urban issues involving flats.

Residential freeholders are shadowy exploitative figures, but on the whole behave within white collar restraints – they employ bottom-end lawyers to do their bullying of obstructive leaseholders. Park home site owners do the same thing with added extra-legal menace, like organising a couple of thugs to steal a pensioners’ mobile home.

After the MPs came the views of the residents, which were shocking.

They had little doubt that money site owners will lose when pitch fees change from RPI to CPI will be “ground out of us in some other way”.

Tony Turner, a redoutable campaigner, is in the upper chamber of the property tribunal at the Royal Courts of Justice today over an issue concerning disclosure of accounts.

He made the point that “government had allowed these con artists to take over the market”, that park homes are a significant park of the retirement housing sector and that it would wither because of the long-term lack of trust the sector’s abuses will engender.

Paul Baker, an insurance broker for park homes, was incredulous that government would entrust any money to park home site owners in the expectation that it would be passed on to the residents’ good.

In short, he was expressing precisely the kind of reservations LKP has over the Building Safety Funds largesse, which will almost certainly be plundered by freeholders and their property manager minions unless there is the strictest oversight.

Sonia McColl concluded by saying that it was time the park homes residents got properly organised and created an organisation like LKP, which she warmly praised: charitable status and the beginnings of proper funding. Much of the campaign has been subsidised by her pension, and it is not healthy that activists such as Tony Turner are venturing into the upper tribunal in disputes where legal costs are routinely gamed and dumped on the losing party.

It is also appalling that the All Party Parliamentary Group on park homes is funded and supported by the site owners, who provide the secretariat. In other words, it is nobbled by the very people on the other side.

It is most unusual that the leasehold and commohnold APPG, which LKP set up with its patron MPs Sir Peter Bottomley, Sir Ed Davey and first Jim Fitzpatrick / now Justin Madders, has a consumer facing charity such as LKP as its secretariat.

As a result, at the next APPG on December 12 the housing minister Lucy Fraser KC will be addressing leaseholder representatives, not the property sector – to the intense frustration of their assorted lobbyists.