I thank my hon. Friend Helen Whately for raising this important issue, which affects a lot of us here. I have visited both residential and leisure park homes in my constituency, and under the correct management, there is no doubt that they can be well-run sites that are great places to live or to go on holiday. However, some of them are in the wrong hands, and bad practice can creep into leisure sites, creating an exploitative way of doing business. The lack of regulation is certainly making that situation worse.
During my visit to a leisure park site in my constituency, I heard accounts from many constituents of maintenance disputes, intimidation and harassment by site management, and rules being changed: one day, those residents could have an outdoor shed, and the next day they could not. One day, they could have plant pots, and then suddenly they could only have three plant pots, with all the rest being smashed. The management was quite threatening, and the residents were definitely frightened.
Even more concerning were reports about mis-selling of leisure homes as permanent accommodation, and unclear contractual arrangements on reselling and pitch fees. There were many stories of people having been sold a dream of selling up and buying a holiday home, with an emphasis on the site being open for most of the year. I was even handed photographic evidence of signage stating that a site was an ideal starter home, and encouraging people to move into those starter homes. In places such as Chichester, where the average house price is over £300,000, that is an attractive offer for many. Of course, all the buyers think is that they have to go on holiday for two weeks, which most of us do. Many of the residents were only given part 1 of their licence agreement during the sales process, with part 2—the terms and conditions—made available only after the sale, or in some cases never supplied. One gentleman I spoke with explained that he had signed his contract despite not seeing all the small print because, after divorcing, he needed to find somewhere to live really quickly.
From those examples, and from others shared by Members today, it is evident that there is a widespread problem of holiday park sites being used residentially, with owners not adequately protected under consumer rights legislation. Of course, local authorities have enforcement powers, but they are concerned about using them: they know that this is going on, but they are concerned about creating a problem that they cannot solve, because if people are made homeless there are not enough homes. If an owner is a member of the National Caravan Council, then they can also use that council to raise concerns. However, not all sites are members. I visited a park home site recently, and it had left the NCC, so there was no means of redress.
Where site owners are guilty of mis-selling, the balance of power is completely in their favour. Residents have no permanent address and possibly no local connection to the area. That can lead to problems registering on the electoral roll, accessing local services or receiving benefits they need. Residents are often too scared to come forward with complaints because they are all too aware of their vulnerable position. They are almost stateless in a way; they do not have any rights. Essentially, they are fearful of being evicted and made homeless. Consumer rights legislation does not offer these grey area residents the same level of statutory protections, such as against harassment or rights over information such as utility charges, as those living on residential sites. I fully support the calls we have heard for the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to be extended to leisure home owners, which would go a long way to evening up the imbalance and protecting the many vulnerable and often elderly residents.