Article published in Derbyshire Times 7 June 2012 Edition
This week we had some very good news on a campaign that we have been running for the last seven years in North East Derbyshire to get Park Homes properly licensed.
Park homes are static caravans where people live. It can be an idyllic semi-retirement amongst people of a similar age often in beautiful surroundings. Too often these days, though, it can be close to hell.
There are eight park home sites in North East Derbyshire set just outside villages, quiet and rural. But you only buy the unit, the house. Like a leasehold, the ground on which it sits belongs to the site owner.
Not so long ago, owning these sites was a matter of pride. Ownership passed from father to son. Owners lived on site, usually in houses adjacent to the park and bought up their families to understand the needs of the people who lived there, because people would become old and frail.
Most sites have a rule that you have to be 50 and over to live there. In order to ensure that these small isolated places didn’t get the wrong sort moving into them, the site owner was given the legal right to veto a purchase. It was to stop home owners selling their homes to the highest bidder, to protect the interests of the other residents.
The owners also worked with the utility companies to make sure that they could bulk buy and pass on the saving to their residents. It meant that one fixed small amount every month for the ground rent would cover bills and maintenance on the site.
But this last generation of site owners has died out now and the sites have been sold on. It doesn’t make much money if you really look after the site but it is a living, just not a luxurious one.
Some of these owners will cut every corner and squeeze every last penny. In some cases, they will make life not worth living for the elderly residents. One old lady who had lost her husband and who wanted to move away had put her house on the market. She was already lonely and frightened, so when someone repeatedly tapped on her window at the dead of night, she was terrified.
The park home site owner vetoed every sale. The tap on the window continued. She got a letter from the owner offering her ten pounds for the unit. She accepted. She just wanted to be away from there. Her house had been on the market (and had had offers) for just under £100,000.
In the heavy snows last year the residents on one park home site asked for some grit. They’d spread it themselves, they said, but the old owner always kept plenty of grit bins and they were always well stocked.
The owner took the grit bins the same day and that evening a big sign appeared outside the unit he works from. ‘Grit for Sale’ at a price that was double what you’d pay anywhere else.
But people bought his grit because they are elderly and scared of ice and snow.
It seems like small things, but if you live with it, it’s not. It can make what should be an idyll into a fearful, undignified existence.
When I first found out about this seven years ago, I asked residents on other park home sites. They were experiencing exactly the same, low-level but constant harassment. Most of them are members of residents associations now and we meet regularly as a group. Hearing that others are going through the same is helpful, but we have been campaigning, for all those seven years, for some changes in the law that recognise the change in site owners.
And it looks like now, this year, we have won our seven-year battle to get the sites properly licensed and policed. To make sure that bad site owners are weeded out and that you can retire with peace of mind, knowing that you will not be chased out of your home when you get too old to defend yourself against a bully.
It may seem like a small thing, and it’s hundreds rather than thousands of people in North East Derbyshire that will be effected, but what a difference that will make to their lives.