Park Homes - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

3  Park home licensing

32. Park home sites are required to be licensed by local authorities under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. Although the legislation was originally designed to cover holiday and mobile caravan parks, it now provides the means for local authorities to ensure that park home sites are safe, and fit for habitation. Under the 1960 Act local authorities can attach conditions to a licence, which can cover:

  • the permitted number of caravans (that is park homes) on the site;
  • their spacing, density, size and siting; and
  • the amenity of the land, health and safety issues and facilities on the site.[45]

33. Under the arrangements the authority must issue a licence (within a specified time) if it is satisfied the site has planning permission for use as a caravan site and the applicant has not within the previous three years had a site licence revoked. Local authorities can refuse to grant licences only under exceptional circumstances. This makes it difficult for authorities to require that site standards are met before issuing a licence. Furthermore, licences must generally be granted for an indefinite period. The maximum penalty the magistrates' court can impose for a breach of site license is £2,500. It is also an offence for a site owner to cause or permit any part of any land to be used as a caravan site without a licence from the licensing authority. The fine for this offence is £2,500. Under the 1960 Act a local authority has power to apply to the magistrates' court to revoke a site licence. However, this is only available on a third or subsequent conviction for breach of a licence condition.[46] The exercise of these powers is discretionary, and the local authority is not obliged to take action for licence offences.

34. A number of organisations and individuals have told us that the existing licensing regime is too weak to deter unscrupulous site owners from failing to manage or maintain sites properly nor does it provide local authorities with an adequate means of monitoring the application of the legislation or enforcing it.[47] Consumer Focus submitted evidence that the 1960 Act was considered by most local authorities to be "out of date" and that the current regime "fails to make provision for effective enforcement".[48] All the evidence we have received from local authorities called for a strengthening of powers to regulate conditions on sites.[49] We see no reason to dissent from this view. The question then is what changes should be made.

Fines for site owners

35. Hart District Council was typical of many authorities[50] in noting that the level of fines for breaching licence conditions was inadequate. They argued that some authorities' legal sections were reluctant to prosecute site owners because it was 'not in the public interest' to prosecute because of the low level of fines and the amount of resources required to do this successfully.[51] The British Holiday and Home Parks Association (BH&HPA) agreed and told us that currently:

the maximum fine for a breach of site licence [...] is not sufficient. If you are talking about fraud, misrepresentation, or that sort of thing, it should be much higher. It should be a sufficient deterrent not to do it.[52]

A number of other local authorities noted that in many cases the cost to a site owner of incurring a fine could be less than the cost of undertaking works to comply with a breach of a licence condition and fines need to be increased to "create a sufficient incentive to effect a repair".[53]

36. The owner of the Stour Park Site in Bournemouth told the Committee that the best way to prevent bad site management was to increase significantly the scale of fines and suggested an upper limit of £250,000.[54] When we put this figure to other site owners (Malcolm Kent and Katy Buswell) and representatives from the National Caravan Council and the BH&HPA, they all agreed that an increase in that order would be an acceptable deterrent, providing that such fines were proportionate to the licence breaches.[55]

37. The Government's consultation document, A Better Deal for Mobile Home Owners, provides a proposal to "increase the maximum fine a court can impose on conviction for breach of a site licence".[56] The accompanying impact assessment describes two options, either to cap fines at £50,000 or provide that fines could be unlimited:

upon conviction for that breach increasing the penalty to either an unlimited fine (to enable the Court to take into account the impact of the offence on residents), or to cap it at £50,000, which would enable the Court to set a fine which was an effective deterrent in the majority of cases.[57]

38. From evidence from local authorities, site owners and home owners it is clear to us that existing financial sanctions for breaches of licensing conditions do not deter site owners from breaching licence conditions. Furthermore, because it is difficult for licences to be revoked, unscrupulous site owners are willing to risk the small financial sanctions that exist rather than properly maintain their sites. We welcome the Government's proposal to increase the fines for breaching site licence conditions. To ensure that fines are an effective deterrent and can be proportionate in even the most extreme cases, we recommend that there be no upper limit on the fines that can be imposed. To ensure that these increases are an effective deterrent and are applied consistently the Government must ensure that the Sentencing Council's guidance for Magistrates is updated to reflect these changes and guide magistrates to impose fines in proportion to the scale of the offence that has been committed.

Licence Fee

39. Increased resources for local authorities was a common theme in submissions from authorities, park home owners and the park home industry. The National Caravan Council called for strengthening the powers of local authorities to take action under the licensing regime against unscrupulous owners, and said that extra resources and funding had to be made available to local authorities to help them do this. They said that local authorities must be given the resources and training to carry out their responsibilities consistently.[58] Maria Battle told us that the findings from the Consumer Focus survey of local authorities site licensing showed that:

You have to revisit the licence over a number of years. It needs to be more cost effective with more financial incentives for local authorities to be more involved in the enforcement regime. I am not asking for more regulation but for financial incentive to enforce what is there at the moment.[59]

40. Local authorities are currently unable to charge either for issuing a site licence to a site owner or for inspection or enforcement of the licensing regime. These costs, particularly enforcement, can be significant. Cheshire West and Chester Council explained that:

In summary the costs to the local authority have been high in officer time and interventions and benefits resulting from this significant effort operating within the existing regime, very limited, when viewed from both the perspective of the local authority and park home residents.[60]

They called for a license fee that covered the cost of carrying out the necessary preventive checks for new sites and site inspection for existing sites.[61]

41. It is clear that local authorities do not have the resources to monitor park homes effectively. The existing regime should be changed to provide local authorities with a funding source to resource adequately their park home licensing activities. This funding would have to come from either council tax income or a charge for the licence. We consider these options below.

42. The Minister, Mr Shapps, told us that charges for licences would provide a 'link' between licensing authorities and sites which would result in more action being taken against the worst site owners. The current Government's consultation document sets out proposals to permit local authorities to charge a fee for issuing a licence, an annual fee for licences, and a fee for transfers of a licence and variations to a licence. The Impact Assessment accompanying the consultation document estimates the upfront cost of a new licence to be about £1,500, but it would leave it to local authorities to set a price structure.[62]

43. A charge for issuing a license comes with a risk of increased pitch fees for park home owners. Though increases to pitch fees are regulated (see paragraph 7571) site owners are able to pass on the increases incurred from some running costs. Brian Doick, President of the National Association of Park Home Residents, explained that "if there is a payment system for licensing, it will not be the park owner but the residents who pay it". Maria Battle explained that:

Many [park home owners] are cash poor, and that is their capital. They have downsized and invested in this ideal home. I hear all the time that they wanted peace and a lovely site and to live in a community. They are very frightened of the pitch fees going up.[63]

44. Park home sites tend to be concentrated in seaside and rural locations.[64] Authorities with a large number of park home sites may find that a significant financial burden is placed on them unless the funding to resource their licensing activities was linked to the number of sites. The best way to do this would be to charge on a site by site basis. We conclude that the Government should allow local authorities to charge for their costs of issuing licences for park home sites. The legislation to enable them to charge should make a clear link between fees received and resourcing activity to license and monitor park home sites, to encourage more monitoring action across all authorities and encourage consistent performance. The legislation should also ensure that each licence is reviewed annually, so that the existing licence is updated, and it should introduce a fee for this so that authorities are resourced to carry out this function. We consider that site owners should be able to pass licence fees on to home owners but that this could only be done fairly if:

  • licence fees are linked to the number of pitches on a site. If they are not, residents on smaller sites would risk facing disproportionate pitch fee increases.
  • licence fees are not used to resource local authorities' enforcement action but only to cover the cost of administration, review and monitoring. Authorities should be able to resource their enforcement operations through a cost recovery model instead. (We consider this issue in the next section.)

Enforcement action and recovery of costs

45. A number of local authorities have called for powers to intervene and undertake works to improve sites when licence conditions are not met and to recover their costs from site owners.[65] The 1960 Act does not allow authorities to recover costs from any work or enforcement action undertaken if licence conditions are not met. The Government recognised that in practice, this "severely limits a local authority's ability to provide effective scrutiny of the sector".[66] Mid Suffolk District Council explained when they might want to exercise such a power:

there is a need to make provision for emergency improvement powers, to be used where there is, for example, an imminent risk to residents on site associated with failure to comply with a site licence condition, with similar provision to prosecute, carry out works in default, recharge and to recover costs through the local land charges register.[67]

46. We received a range of evidence on how a charging regime could operate. A number of local authorities favoured arrangements similar to those that covered houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).[68] This provides local authorities with a power to undertake work and recover the costs from the HMO owner. Bromsgrove District Council proposed that authorities should be able to issue improvement notices, similar to those under the HMO scheme. These could be issued to site owners to require that improvement works were carried out. If work was not undertaken, the authority could undertake the work and recover their costs from the site owner.

47. Ros Pritchard, from the BH&HPA, suggested a different model based on the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) cost recovery practices.[69] The HSE aims to recover any intervention costs where duty holders are found to be in breach of health and safety law. Such a model could be used to charge site owners for site visits and investigative work along with improvement works. Charging operators of the worst sites, that is those requiring enforcement and remedial action, for the work undertaken by a local authority to ensure compliance with the site owners' obligations for their sites, ensures that the authority's costs in operating a licensing system for all park homes, and thus the costs falling on those well-run sites in compliance, would be unaffected.

48. The Government's consultation document proposes that local authorities have the power to serve notices on site owners requiring that they undertake works to comply with licensing conditions and that, if works are not undertaken, to do the work themselves and recover the cost from site owners. The document also proposes that site operators will be unable to pass any of these costs (other than licence fees) on to home owners.[70]

49. We welcome the Government's proposals to provide local authorities with powers to undertake works and recover costs. The cost recovery element is particularly important in keeping licence fees at a minimum. As we have indicated, local authorities must be able to disaggregate the cost of licensing and enforcement. This will ensure that "good" site owners do not have to pay to provide resources that authorities incur to deal with licence breaches on other sites. Any new arrangements must also provide that the cost passed on to home owners is kept to a minimum. We recommend that the Government give local authorities a power to undertake works to ensure sites are safe and conform to licence conditions. This should reflect the existing Houses in Multiple Occupation licensing regime by providing authorities with a power to issue a notice to a site owner to require that works are undertaken and that, if such works are not undertaken, provide an authority with a power to undertake the works themselves. It should also ensure that authorities are able to recover costs from site owners for any work that is undertaken, including visits (both investigatory and confirmatory), investigative work and improvement works, when a site owner is found to be in breach of licence conditions. We further recommend that the legislation ensure that any of these charges or costs cannot be passed on to park home owners by site owners through pitch fees or by any other charge.

45   Ev 140, para 8 Back

46   Department for Communities and Local Government, Park Home Site licensing-Improving the Management of Park Home Sites, 2009, para 48 Back

47   For example, Ev 108 [National Caravan Council ], Ev 101 [Independent Park Home Advisory Service], Ev 114 [British Holiday and Home Parks Association], Ev 85 [Consumer Focus] Back

48   Ev 93 Back

49   For example, Ev w184 [South Gloucestershire Council], Ev 125 [Cornwall County Council], Ev w183 [Ashford Borough Council], Ev w186 [Epping Forest District Council]  Back

50   Including Ev w163 [Eastleigh Borough Council] and Ev w183 [Ashford Borough Council] Back

51   Ev w170 [Hart District Council] Back

52   Q 210 Back

53   Ev 124 [Cheshire West and Chester Council} Back

54   Q 62 [Richard Grigg] Back

55   Q 210  Back

56   Department for Communities and Local Government, A Better Deal for Mobile Home Owners, April 2012, para 4.3 Back

57   Department for Communities and Local Government, A Better Deal for Mobile Home Owners, and Department for Communities and Local Government, Changes to the local authority site licensing regime Impact assessment, April 2012, para 13 Back

58   Ev 106 Back

59   Q 159 Back

60   Ev 121 Back

61   As above Back

62   Department for Communities and Local Government, A Better Deal for Mobile Home Owners: changes to the local authority site licensing regime: impact assessment, April 2012, para 23  Back

63   Q 166 Back

64   Ev 140 Back

65   For example, Ev 127 [Cornwall Council], Ev w211 [Torbay Council], Ev w164 [Eastleigh Borough Council] Back

66   Ev 140, para 10 Back

67   Ev w167 Back

68   For example, Ev w158 [London Borough of Bromley], Ev w180 [Rochford District Council], Ev w182 [Ashford Borough Council] Back

69   Q 219 Back

70   Department for Communities and Local Government, A Better Deal for Mobile Home Owners, April 2012, para 2.42 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 20 June 2012