Park Homes - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

4  Fit and proper person test

50. A number of organisations, including local authorities, industry bodies and park home owner campaigning groups have called for the worst offenders to be excluded from the park homes sector. They argue that when site operators can be shown repeatedly to act aggressively or with intimidation or when they persistently breach licence conditions or block sales they should be prevented from operating in the sector. Sonia McColl, from the Park Home Owners Justice Campaign, described the worst owners:

I have telephone calls and emails every day with regard to it. I have instances of more passive harassment, if you like, i.e. park owners sitting outside the house in cars with blacked-out windows and the engine being revved up; causing a disturbance; and sending threatening letters of eviction for no real reason whatsoever. The worst cases involve brandishing chainsaws outside the house when residents return; sending in thugs-about which I have given you information today-to throw paint over houses; breaking car windows; putting paint inside; and threatening elderly and disabled people. All of the letters I have received are in files for you. One disabled gentleman who dared to ask to see a utility bill was threatened; he was told he would be taken to the top field and done over. It goes on and on right across the board, so, yes, a lot of it is going on.[71]

Maria Battle, from Consumer Focus, described similar incidents and saw similarities between the worst offenders in the park homes sector and perpetrators of child abuse:

My career has been in preventing child abuse, and I can see parallels here. They will target the most vulnerable and they will have favourites. For example, last week they targeted two 85-year-old widows who live separately. They just walked in and said, "You're not going to join the residents' association, are you?" They look through the window; dump stuff outside; and spit in people's faces.[72]

Purpose of a fit and proper person test

51. As noted in the previous chapter, the existing licensing regime means that local authorities can rarely refuse to grant park home site licenses and it is also very difficult for an authority to revoke a licence. A licensing authority is not able to take into account any information about the individual or business applying for a licence. This effectively means that there are no controls on people managing sites. A 'fit and proper person' test might be used by an authority to determine whether a site owner or manager was able to hold a licence. Epping Forest District Council described the failings of the current system in dealing with persistently bad owners:

[a] system needs to be in place that allows local authorities to consider the cumulative actions of an unscrupulous owner on one individual or more individuals. The existing provisions for revocation of a site licence are contained in Section 9 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 which appears to require 3 separate, previous convictions for failing to comply with Site Licence Conditions on the same site. These convictions must have been in the same court (S9(2) of the Act) and can only relate to breaches of the site licence so that other previous convictions of harassment cannot be taken into account. There is some confusion as to whether repeat convictions, convictions on other sites owned by the same person and/or any time limited convictions can be taken into account.

A workable process needs to be put in place whereby an owner can have his site licence revoked for misbehaviour. This could be linked with the 'fit and proper person' test where failure to meet the ongoing requirements of the test could lead to revocation of the site licence.[73]

52. The previous Government's 2009 consultation proposed that under a new site licensing regime a local authority should only grant a license for a park home site to a 'fit and proper person'.[74] Under this proposal a licensing authority would be able to take into account such considerations as convictions for violence, fraud, discrimination, offences under the Mobile Homes Act, health and safety breaches and disqualification as a company director, before issuing a site licence. Following this consultation the Government said the introduction of the 'fit and proper' requirement had been supported by a majority of consultees, and that it intended to introduce this as a licence requirement.[75]


53. When we put the possibility of introducing a 'fit and proper person' scheme to a number of local authorities, they described how a scheme might work in practice. Katie Hooper, from Bromsgrove District Council, explained how a 'fit and proper person' test was used successfully to manage licence holders for HMOs.[76] She suggested that similar process could be translated onto the park home sector. Clive Phillips, from Kent County Council, proposed that aspects of the liquor licensing system might also provide a useful model. In particular, the local authority's ability to attach conditions to a licence in cases where it has been breached.[77] Sylvia Rook, from the Trading Standards Institute, suggested that licensing arrangements similar to those in the Consumer Credit Act 1974 might be a better model because in determining applications a broad set of criteria could be taken into account:

anybody who issues or deals with credit has to get a licence issued by the Office of Fair Trading. Very stringent checks are taken against them to make sure that they are fit and proper. That involves communication with Trading Standards; it is not just a matter of their criminal background but all their associates as well. The problem is that if you just look at an individual you do not get a good picture, and they will always certify themselves as being a fit and proper person.[78]

54. The National Caravan Council called for a national scheme for registered site owners to improve performance. The park homes sector includes businesses that operate sites in different authorities. Information on these business and the individuals working for them might need to be shared between authorities. Their submission says that a centralised park licensing and registration scheme linked to a 'Fit and Proper Person' test could do this.[79] They told us that the industry supported such a requirement. The Office of Fair Trading suggested that a more local approach might be better, whereby local authorities were able to ban individuals from operating in a specific sector. They described a negative licensing system (such as with estate agents) which operated as a 'banning' regime, where anyone can enter the market, but enforcement bodies can take action to exclude from the market any traders who breach relevant rules.[80]


55. Martin Fisher from Cornwall Council told us he supported a 'fit and proper person' test but highlighted a number of problems that must be considered:

First of all, the people who we have received complaints about and who you have had representations about already have a licence, so kind of retrospectively imposing a fit and proper person test might be tricky. The fundamental power of rogue owners, unscrupulous owners, lies in the fact that they own the land. [...]

Then you have the issue of defining what is a fit and proper person, or what constitutes a non-fit and proper person.

The next point is that the HMO fit and proper person test depends, first and foremost, on self-certification. [...] all of which diminishes the usefulness even before you get to the point, which I think a licensing colleague made earlier, that there will always be somebody with a clean record who will come forward to hold the licence.[81]

56. Another issue to be addressed is what happens if a manager of a site is found not to be fit and proper and as a result a site licence is revoked. The point of a fit and proper person scheme would be to improve the situation for residents, but there is a risk that if a licence is revoked a responsible manager might not be found and conditions on a site could deteriorate. Trading Standards Institute suggested that where licenses were revoked the local authority might take over management of the site.

[W]e think there needs to be some process whereby an individual/business who has engaged in unfair practices can be prevented from continuing to run a site or have any interest in one, perhaps introducing a system where the local authority can take over the running of such a site where there are clear matters of consumer detriment.[82]

Similar arrangements are found under the HMO licensing scheme. A local authority can issue a management order which allows them to take over the management of a HMO if they revoke or are unable to issue a licence to the owner.[83] Occupiers are then required to pay rent to the authority, which takes over responsibility for the management of the tenancies and the maintenance and upkeep of the HMO. In extreme cases authorities are also able to compulsorily purchase an HMO.[84]


57. The Government's current consultation document does not propose to introduce a fit and proper person test.[85] The Minster, Mr Shapps, told us that he did not consider that a fit and proper person scheme was practicable. He said that other measures in the consultation would achieve the same result by driving the worst offenders out of the sector. He also argued that HMO-type-licensing should not be applied to park home sites because it was designed to "protect people from the kind of health and safety risks that you get in a home in multiple occupation".[86]

58. We understand that there are some concerns about introducing a fit and proper person test, but we see a strong case for a test to ensure that the worst offenders are prevented from operating in this sector and to prevent a criminal element, as encountered by West Mercia Police (see paragraph 16) from entering and expanding in this sector. We disagree with the Minister's assessment and consider that HMO-type-licensing is particularly applicable to the park home sector, where health and safety risks from poor maintenance are a key concern. The high proportion of vulnerable people living in park homes deserve this additional protection. We conclude that a fit and proper person test could be a useful addition to local authorities' armoury to exclude the worst offenders from owning and managing park home sites.

59. It is, however, clear to us that the introduction of such a test would require a significant increase in the regulation of the sector. The Government is confident that the reforms it proposes are sufficient to drive the unscrupulous out of the sector. We do, of course, hope that this would be the outcome from the Government's proposals but we must nevertheless conclude that, if the measures prove insufficient, the sector should not have to wait for further consultation and then an opportunity to legislate. On current projections that could be after 2020. This would not be satisfactory. We therefore recommend that the Government bring forward as part of the proposed legislation an enabling power to establish a fit and proper person test, which could be activated through secondary legislation, if required.

60. To ensure that the improvements it expects happen and are effective, we recommend that the Government undertake a comprehensive survey of the sector in three years' time. If the situation has not improved, we recommend that the Government use the power to introduce a fit and proper person scheme through secondary legislation. Under such a scheme it should be a requirement of the site licence to have a fit and proper person as site manager. Failure to meet this term would be grounds to revoke a site licence. We consider that a fit and proper person licensing scheme would work most effectively if it was coordinated at a national level so that information about owners could be shared between authorities. The Government should therefore be able to put in place arrangements for a body to carry out the function and it should be financed by a levy included in all licensing fees. The scheme could operate using similar criteria to those used to determine applications for consumer credit act licences, so that authorities would be able to consider the associations of a licence holder or applicant, in addition to those set out in the Government's 2009 consultation on park homes. The scheme could also include provisions for local authorities to take over the management of sites when licences were revoked and to compulsorily purchase sites, in extreme cases, when returning management of a site to the owner would not be possible.

71   Q 141 Back

72   Q 142 Back

73   Ev w187 Back

74   Department for Communities and Local Government, Park Home Site licensing-Improving the Management of Residential Park Home Sites: Consultation, May 2009, para 10 Back

75   Department for Communities and Local Government, Park homes site licensing reform: The way forward and next steps, March 2010, pp 4, 22 Back

76   Q 266 Back

77   Q 274 Back

78   Q 271 Back

79   Ev 109 Back

80   Ev w224 Back

81   Q 274 Back

82   Ev 131 Back

83   Department for Communities and Local Government, Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation in England, 2007, paras 7.1-2  Back

84   Department for Communities and Local Government, Circular 02/03: Compulsory Purchase Orders, 2003, appendix d, para 12 Back

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

86   Q 487 Back

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Prepared 20 June 2012