Peter Aldous says efforts to tackle unscrupulous holiday park operators should be dealt with under existing laws as additional legislation could have a negative impact on the vast majority of sites which are well run and are a vital component of the tourism industry along the Suffolk and Norfolk coast.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on securing this important debate, and on highlighting a growing problem in the leisure park sector that is devastating the lives of many people, and turning what was supposed to be a dream into a nightmare.
The issue is of interest to me for two reasons. First, the Mobile Homes Act 2013, which was brought in to stamp out abuses in the park homes sector, started off as a private Member’s Bill that I took through the Commons. It appears that the measures introduced by that Act to outlaw rogue site owners have had the unintended consequence that they now focus their attention on holiday parks. Secondly, the holiday parks sector is important in my constituency. Leisure park homes are a vital component part of the tourism industry around Lowestoft and along the Suffolk and Norfolk coast. Generally, those businesses are well run. It is important to bear in mind that the vast majority of site owners are responsible business people.
As I see it, we have to address two issues: the unscrupulous operators who have moved into the sector, and the people who have moved into the parks with the intention of living, rather than holidaying, there. They can be addressed in two ways. First, there is a whole raft of legislation that prohibits mis-selling and fraud, and it should be enforced. That includes the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the Misrepresentation Act 1967, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and, very importantly, the Fraud Act 2006.
Secondly, responsible site owners should do all they can to ensure that people do not live on parks as their main homes. That means properly checking the purchaser’s home address, and asking for a utility bill and a council tax receipt to confirm it. It means watching out for tell-tale signs that the mobile home might be being used as a permanent home, such as cars leaving and returning at what could be described as commuter times, and washing being on the line throughout the year—in particular, school uniforms being hung out to dry.
My concern about additional legislation is that we would need to ensure that it did not have an unintended negative impact on local economies, many of which are in coastal locations and are fragile and heavily reliant on tourism. Moreover, it has to be pointed out that in many instances local authorities do not enforce existing laws and regulations due to financial restrictions and staff shortages. I have to ask: what is the point of passing new laws that will not be enforced?
We need to get the councils a better local government funding settlement at the forthcoming comprehensive spending review, so that they can properly regulate the sector, applying the rules so as to drive out the rogues who are making many peoples’ lives a misery. My hon. Friend has highlighted a growing problem that must be stamped out, and I will work with her to do that.
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