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factual
FACE THE FACTS
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Face the Facts
Transcript : Face the Facts - 3 August 2007
FACE THE FACTS

Park Homes

Presenter: John Waite

TRANSMISSION: Friday 3rd August 2007 1230-1300
BBC RADIO 4

Waite
This week, we'll be investigating the unusual position of 200,000 homeowners who live in communities all over Britain. Despite the fact that they buy, and, therefore, own their own homes, they enjoy few of the ownership rights that most homeowners take for granted. They can't sell their homes to the highest bidder, for example. In fact, in some cases, they can't sell them at all. They can't let their homes. They can't leave them in their will to whoever they choose. They're told when repairs are required and even when their homes need to be replaced. All of which means their that well-being depends upon the goodwill and integrity of those who own the land on which their home sits. Because these are people, usually elderly, who live in mobile homes and, they say, trusting to the integrity of their landowner is not something they can always rely on.

Clips
We were told if we didn't get off the site they would make it like Beirut and it was like Beirut, it was absolutely awful.

I get up with it on my mind in the morning and I go to bed with it on my mind, I'm just at my wits end.

Waite
So you've got a home you can't live in but you can't sell it?

Precisely.

Waite
In October last year, new legislation came into force in England that was supposed to put an end to experiences like those. An amendment to the Mobile Homes Act which introduced several changes designed to offer better protection. The evidence we've gathered, however, suggests the act has made little difference. Residents remain uniquely vulnerable because living in a mobile home puts them in a unique position.

Packman
They're not actually buying the land, the land is owned by the landowner and always will be.

Waite
That's Colin Packman, president of the Park Home Residents Action Alliance which was set up five years ago specifically to campaign for better rights.

Packman
If they move on to one of these parks and they realise I don't like this form of living and then of course they realise that they can't sell it to a couple in their 30s, they very often can't sell to someone with a dog, you're under the complete control of the landowner the moment you move on.

Waite
And though it's only fair to say that many residents of park homes are happy - there can be problems. Not that you'd guess that if you glance at the glossy brochures which offer new mobile homes for sale. There potential buyers are told about the "spirit of community and relaxed living" rather than the legal technicalities.

Reading: Brochures
Many residents claim that living in a park home seems like a perpetual holiday.

Park home life offers you the opportunity to release some of your capital and enjoy travelling or spoiling yourself with luxuries you thought you could only have dreamed of.

Waite
Such an idyllic lifestyle, though, doesn't usually come cheap. Some mobile homes sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds - but typically a resident would pay around 100,000 for a new two bedroom version. Then there's the ground rent, the so-called "pitch fee", paid to the site owner of around a £150 a month. Household bills such as gas and electricity are also usually paid direct to the site owner. And as that brochure blurb shows, mobile homes are often marketed to people who are retiring and want to downsize and release capital. People like Jackie.

Jackie
That's my van there that I spent two and half thousand pound having new windows and doors put on and painted. And loads of work too. I'm very, very happy there.

Waite
Jackie - not her real name, she's asked us not to reveal her identity - drives round the mobile home site that used to be her home. It's called Hardwick Bridge, and it's in Kings Lynn in Norfolk. She bought her home in 2003, and looked forward to a long and happy retirement.

Jackie
There used to be 72 families lived here, quite happily, quite peacefully, no trouble or anything. And now everyone of us has had to go.

Waite
Because, just a year after Jackie moved in, the local council sold Hardwick Bridge to a new leaseholder, Colin Crickmore. And within weeks he was busy sending out letters warning that major changes were underway.

Reading: Letter
Please note that the redevelopment of Hardwick Bridge Caravan Park will commence as soon as it is practical to do so, it may be necessary to move certain homes.

Waite
But it emerged that it wasn't a move around the site that Mr Crickmore had in mind, he wanted all 72 mobile homes off the site, to be replaced by brand new ones. New homes, as we'll be hearing, that make great profits for any site owner. Mr Crickmore, however, was prepared to pay to get the old homes off the site. For Jackie's home, for example, which she'd spent thousands buying and a further two and a half thousand renovating, he offered just £500 home. Jackie refused and consulted a solicitor. But things turned very ugly as the leaseholder was not going to take no for an answer, telling Jackie:

Jackie
If you don't do as you're told I'll just hook your van up and pull it round the site until it just falls to bits. And then the intimidation just got worse and worse with them banging on the doors early hours of the morning or the side of the van saying you've got to get out. And letters keep coming round saying your van has been condemned by the council. You had a video camera with you all the time because you were frightened of what was going to happen. Every time you left the site we had a Dictaphone in the pocket in case they had a go at you, had evidence. It was just unbelievable.

Waite
Mr Crickmore continued to demand that Jackie leave, even after that supposedly tougher legislation for mobile home owners came into force last autumn - which was meant to reinforce the right of owners like her to "quiet enjoyment of their mobile homes".

Clip from Parliament
Mobile Homes Act 1983 amendment of schedule 1 England Order 2006 the Lord Bassam of Brighton.

Waite
Amendments to the Mobile Homes Act completing their progress through Parliament and enshrining clauses designed to make it harder for site owners to expel home owners from their pitches without good reason.

One thing the legislation did nothing about, however, was the stipulation that home owners must buy new mobile homes direct from the owner of their site. Ministers in effect ignored pressure from residents that they be allowed the freedom to buy their homes on the open market like everyone else.

We've obtained the actual government consultation document about that, and it's clear that site owners very much had money on their mind when resisting that proposed change

Reading: Government consultation document
The proposal to remove the park owner from the sale transaction and any involvement in the payment of funds was felt to be extremely dangerous and would place potential buyers at risk of not acquiring their full rights at law……some park owners stated that 50% of their income could be lost.

Waite
Indeed, it's not difficult to see why site owners might worry about losing their traditional role of selling homes direct to new buyers or indeed may be tempted to carry out development plans which involve introducing all new homes. Because there's a lot of money to be made every time someone buys a new home on your site.

Burgess
This is our Dolben Lodge, which is one of the most popular range of homes. It's a two bedroom model. And ...

Waite
Nick Burgess from Tingdene Homes, a company based in Northamptonshire and one of the country's biggest manufacturers of mobile homes showing me round one of the company's new models.

Prices for a new mobile home here start from around £29,000. But as the brochure says this is a factory price and a transport, siting and site development fee will then be quoted - and added - by your supplier - in other words the site owner. And he'll also be given a discount by the manufacturer depending on how many homes he's ordering. So the final cost a new mobile home owner will end up paying will usually be double the factory price. A park home with two double bedrooms, for example, could cost the site owner £70,000 but the resident who buys it will probably pay him more like a £140,000 for it.

Burgess
Ultimately if you are going to take the price from the manufactured point of view to the onsite point of view the cost of development are there and there are profits obviously that a developer needs to make.

Waite
Isn't this an incentive for a site owner to clear older homes so he can have new homes on which he makes lots of money?

Burgess
I think yes of course it must be because obviously if you can put new homes on a park then you are going to obviously attract a higher revenue and obviously at the same time parks by doing that are making the park better.

Waite
Not for the home owners who don't want to leave.

Burgess
Older homes must at some point come off a particular park and I'm not talking of homes that we're looking at today, we're looking at homes that are probably 30 or 40 years old that don't resemble today's modern park home.

Waite
In other words homes like Jackie's and the other 70 or so residents of Hardwick Bridge in King's Lynn, all of whom were urged to leave by their new leaseholder Colin Crickmore.

Jackie
They just didn't want us on there because they couldn't earn any money out of us. If they got rid of us and had new pitches and new vans all the way round they're winning. They want to get you off, there doesn't seem to be any protection whatsoever.

Waite
And because she felt her position was so vulnerable, Jackie and two other residents, who'd clung on to try to defy the site owner, eventually gave up the struggle and left in January this year, having received offers for their homes from Mr Crickmore that were higher than his original £500. Ironically, her mobile home is currently occupied by workers involved in the site redevelopment.

And if the rights of park home owners are nothing like as strong as they are for people who invest in bricks and mortar, the difference can be even more stark when they try to sell up, even with homes on the most picturesque of sites.

Pritchard
Well it's all lawned and flowers everywhere and you've got the golf course and like lovely trees and the canal and the boats and swans and ducks and really very, very pleasant.

Waite
Dorothy Pritchard is 80 and has been trying to sell her two bedroom home on the Oxley Court mobile home park in Wolverhampton for the last two years. She bought it back in 1988 and when she put it on the market for £90,000 in May 2005, she had a cash buyer within a week.

Pritchard
I thought lovely, you know, I couldn't believe, you know, my luck to think ooh thank goodness for that like, you know what I mean?

Waite
Dorothy hadn't been too well, and so was preparing to move out of her home of 19 years and into sheltered accommodation. But, before she could, there was a hurdle because any site owner has a legal right to vet all potential purchasers - ostensibly to make sure they are credit-worthy, can afford the rent and will fit in with the other residents. But after Dorothy's buyer met with her site owner, a Mr Christopher Nedic, who runs seven mobile home parks in total, he pulled out.

Pritchard
This Mr Nedic barred it.

Waite
He stopped the sale?

Pritchard
He stopped the sale. Well he stopped all the sales, this is what gets me so much, I've had people really wanting my home and he stops the buyers.

Waite
Well I'm now in the centre of Wolverhampton at an estate agents, White Gates, that has tried to sell some of the park homes that stand on Mr Nedic's land and have come across all sorts of reasons provided by Mr Nedic why they can't be sold.

Estate Agent
Good morning, can I help?

Waite
Yeah I've got an appointment to see Colin Andrews.

Estate Agent
Your name is?

Waite
John Waite from Radio 4.

Estate Agent
If you'd like to take a seat I'll let him know you're here.

Andrews
Well I shan't be taking on anymore park homes on Mr Nedic's sites, that's for sure. It appears to me that I'm not really going to get any of these sales through to a conclusion.

Waite
Mr Andrews was the agent who tried to sell Dorothy Pritchard's home and whose clients came up against the site owners objections.

Andrews
Well Mr Nedic pointed out very firmly that there was a crack in the concrete pad that the park home stood on because the park home, according to Mr Nedic, would have to be moved before the crack could be repaired and there was a danger that the park home could break up and cost him a lot of money in damages and being sued and so on he wasn't prepared to contemplate that and of course the buyer got nervous and withdrew their offer. We've had three buyers subsequently but all of those buyers failed to actually get through their offer to completion because Mr Nedic would not allow them to actually sign a contract with him.

Waite
I mean Mr Nedic is the park owner, I mean that is his land, he says there's a big crack in this concrete block then you know he may be genuinely fearful on their behalf.

Andrews
Well he may be but to answer that we did get a fully qualified structural engineer to actually have a look at it and he says it's okay.

Jones
There's a little bit of cracking in the slab, to me it was fairly obvious, as an engineer, there'd been some settlement in the slab, some local settlement. The whole slab was not affected.

Waite
That's Edward Jones, a civil engineer for 40 years, who carried out the survey on Dorothy Pritchard's apparently unsaleable home.

Jones
If the crack wasn't repaired I don't think there'd be an immediate problem, there may be one in 15-20 years time.

Waite
Mr Nedic has employed a surveyor who says quite the opposite.

Jones
Well Mr Medic's surveyor is quite entitled to his opinion of course but I am not particularly concerned at what I've seen, in my opinion the home has many years left in it.

Waite
And it wasn't just Dorothy's sale that was being stopped in its tracks. John Davies was keen to buy another mobile home at the Oxley Court site. And had had his offer of £82,000 accepted. But then, as he is obliged to do, he had to seek approval from site owner, Mr Nedic.

Davies
He said you've got to have my permission to buy it and I won't give it because it's got the wrong roof on - the roof is too heavy for the mobile home. And then he says: see these windows, they're the wrong windows. We hung on as long as we possibly could we wanted it that much, we did want it that much. He did try to sell us a new one but I didn't want a brand new one not at the prices he's charging.

Waite
So, we wondered, does Mr Nedic make a habit of putting off prospective buyers of the older mobile homes on his site?

Posing as someone interested in purchasing Dorothy Pritchard's home, I rang him up. Remember, he was supposedly concerned about its cracked concrete slab. Well, strangely that supposed defect was never mentioned though he did claim to have identified some new flaws. Much wiser, he said, would be to buy a brand new home from him rather than her old home from Dorothy.

Nedic
We've got a report in from a structural engineer and he says the roof's gone or the ceiling is all gone and the roof's dropping in. To be honest with you they've been for sale for two years nearly.

Waite
If it's falling apart will it last, will it stay on the site?

Nedic
I don't think so between me and you no, no. The one particular by the canal?

Waite
Yeah that's the one.

Nedic
Yeah well that one's a pretty - in a bad way.

Waite
So it's going to go is it?

Nedic
It's going to go yeah, yeah. We can show you the report that I've had on the park home and it's in a pretty bad way. You know if you want to make arrangements to go and have a look - the windows - the windows have been put in, it's been bodged up to death and it's - bodged up so I shall up - corrugated roof, not a proper tile and [indistinct word] to be honest with you, it's in a bad way it'll be scrapped. It's rotten. You're better off paying the extra and have a brand new one.

Waite
Back at Westminster, behaviour like that angers the secretary of the all party working group for the welfare of park home owners, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Even when that new legislation was being discussed last year, he warned the government that it wasn't strong enough to stop site owners like Mr Nedic from deterring potential buyers. In fact, Lord Graham proposed a specific clause which would prevent a site owner from doing anything to affect the sale of a mobile home, including making unproven detrimental statements about it

Edmonton
Unfortunately the government said that it wasn't ready to do that then. But they then said we'll issue guidance on how this should be done. So I'm sorry to say the 12 months after giving that promise the department has yet to issue the guidance. Undoubtedly there is a real cause for concern because elderly, frail people, lonely people, are put in a position where they are very often bullied by the bully boys and some site owners - not all - use unscrupulous tactics to hound and browbeat vulnerable people.

Waite
Well, octogenarian she might be but Dorothy Pritchard isn't going to be bullied she told us and she's taking Mr Nedic to court now to try to force him to allow her to sell what's after all her own home. One that he has offered to buy - for £10,000. That's the home, you'll recall, that Dorothy put on the market two years ago for 90,000 and got a cash buyer within a week.

Pritchard
That's my money, you know, my home and I should be able to have it. I'm just at my wits end.

Waite
So really it is all you have - the equity in that home?

Pritchard
That's all, that's all.

Waite
So if you get nothing for it you will have nothing?

Pritchard
No, nothing at all.

Waite
And of course you're still paying the bills for that home.

Pritchard
Yes I pay the ground rent, I pay council tax, I pay heating in the winter, I pay to have the lawns cut.

Waite
So you've got - you've got a home you can't live in but you can't sell it?

Pritchard
Precisely.

Waite
And you're crying now because it really is on your mind all the time.

Pritchard
Can't get it off.

Waite
Well I've come to another mobile home site and the home I'm visiting, when you arrive as I just have, there in the window are two big signs in red, one says 'Beware: Buy in haste repent in poverty', the other says: 'Beware: Before you buy visit the Park Home Residents Action Alliance'. That's because the man who lives here, Gordon McNally, has another story to tell us about his dealings with Mr Nedic.

McNally
I came home and I saw yellow lines down the lawn, I said to the contractor: "Can you tell me what the yellow lines are for?" He says: "Surely, they're for a base for a home." I said: "On my land?" He says: "It's not your land, all you have is the concrete base for your home." A thousand daffodils I had along there and he heaped four foot of soil on top of them.

Waite
And it didn't stop there Gordon did it, before very long this arrived, which we're now standing on, a piece of concrete now where your garden used to be.

McNally
When I was out again he took the shed down with a JCB, he took another part of the land and even while we was negotiating with the solicitors he was still taking it.

Waite
Exasperated Gordon McNally took Mr Nedic to court where both agreed that Mr Nedic should pay Mr McNally £15,000 for costs and damages. The court endorsed the settlement but Mr Nedic has still not fulfilled all the demands of the court order.

McNally
Mr Nedic was to give me land for the land he'd taken away from me, if you like I will show you.

Waite
Please.

McNally
This is the land he's to give me for the land he took off me and also he should put a base down there to bring that shed, my new shed, on to it. He had 42 days to do this from the 5th December 2005 and he still hasn't done it at this day. The case is not over after four years.

Waite
Our request to Mr Nedic for a formal interview was declined. Instead we received a letter from his solicitors stating that Mr McNally had encroached on land that was not part of his pitch. And, it went on, if Mr McNally feels the court order has not been complied with, he is at liberty to go back to court. The letter also states emphatically that Mr Nedic does not block sales. Nor does he advise potential buyers that older homes are going to be scrapped. Which, as you'll recall, runs rather contrary to what Mr Nedic himself had told me.

Nedic
To be honest it's in a bad way, it'll be scrapped. It's rotten.

Waite
Well, we were told that neither Mr Nedic nor his solicitor would comment further as Mrs Pritchard's case is now a matter for court proceedings. Most residents, though, we were assured, are content. But discontent is very definitely growing among a number of residents groups around the country who are pushing hard for the legislation to be toughened up. They believe that it didn't go far enough, because tougher proposals were watered down after lobbying by the industry. A point I put to the industry's representative, Ros Pritchard from the British Holiday and Home Parks Association.

Ros Pritchard
I think the government were looking to listen to both sides, find a practical solution that drives the rogues out but doesn't create them a special niche in the park homes industry.

Waite
Well let's go through some of those proposals. I mean the proposed right, for example, for the replacement of homes, in other words being allowed to buy your home direct from the manufacturer which would have denied the site owners income from those new sales that are currently achieved periodically when park homes are vacated at the end of their life, that was a proposal that was watered down, that was turned down.

Ros Pritchard
In essence it's unique form of housing where a homeowner enjoys a lower cost purchase price because they don't purchase the land, so when a park owner does his investment planning he's looking to budget in a replacement new home and the profit from that about every 30-40 years.

Waite
But if this proposal had come in that would have stopped the practice of site owners blocking the sales of older mobile homes because they know they can put a newer one on the plot and make a great deal of money.

Ros Pritchard
It would also have made the pitch fee very much more expensive because somehow the park owner has to get a return on his investment. Remember he has to lay the roads, buy the land, lay the electricity infrastructure, the sewage infrastructure and manage that business. And the government ...

Waite
This way he gets both - he gets a huge chunk of profit on charging what is it - £75,000 from installing a new home, that's a lot of money and then he gets the rent for 30 years.

Ros Pritchard
Yes, the government researched the economics of the industry and what they found was no evidence of any excessive profit within the industry.

Waite
But how sincere are you, as an organisation, about your wish to police these things, I mean your own director's report of 2002, a copy of which I have here, talks about the importance of lobbying against the "burden" is your word, the burden of regulation? It says that where it's not possible to avoid the introduction of regulation your association endeavours to ensure that enforcement is with the lightest possible touch.

Ros Pritchard
We're talking about taxation legislation, health and safety legislation, employment legislation - when it comes to this legislation against the rogues we would like to see it enforced, we would like to see high profile prosecutions because the industry suffers the reputation that the activities of the rogues bring to us. So no I would absolutely confirm that we would like to see this regulation enforced.

Waite
Ros Pritchard from the British holiday and Home Parks Association. As for the government office, responsible for that new legislation, officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government declined to be interviewed. When we asked why, we were simply told "they don't give a reason for declining".

Instead we were sent a statement saying disputes were rare as protection from rogue site owners is now better than ever before and it went on:

Reading: Government statement
We've changed the law to give residents greater control over sales and have introduced new safeguards for owners from harassment.

Both park home owners and residents groups were heavily involved in developing these changes and the new laws were subject to widespread consultation before being introduced.

We're currently investigating how we can make it easier for park home residents to settle disputes without the need to go to court.

Not that going to court proves the final arbiter anyway, as we heard from Gordon McNally who says the court order he obtained against Mr Nedic has still not been fully complied with. No, what mobile home owners want is watertight legislation. Because until the law is changed properly, they say, site owners can remain a law unto themselves.
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