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Park Homes: County Court Judgments

Volume 744: debated on Monday 18 March 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they monitor the resolution of county court judgments, especially in the case of the park homes industry; and, if so, how.

My Lords, we recognise that there are issues within the park homes industry, and the Government have supported the Mobile Homes Bill to ensure that home owners are better protected and that local authorities can enforce against breaches of site licences. On the resolution of county court judgments, these are not monitored and the civil courts only provide a forum in which individuals can resolve their disputes. However, the Government believe that an effective enforcement system is important and reforms have been made to strengthen these methods.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, as far as it goes. Is he aware that last year a park home owner admitted or acknowledged to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee that he had £150,000 standing against his name as unpaid? Does the Minister recall that in the West Country a family of park home owners have £150,000 against their names? Earlier this year, the Isle of Wight dealt with this matter and two park home owners, who have form, were convicted on 11 counts. They were then fined £300,000, and according to the local authority’s press release £275,000 was for compensation. Can the Minister explain why in some cases compensation is guaranteed, when in others it has to be fought for?

My Lords, as the noble Lord has acknowledged, the Government are taking steps in this regard. Again, I highlight some of the methods we have looked at. The civil courts offer several enforcement methods, including warrants of execution, attachment of earnings, third-party debt orders, charging orders and orders for sale. We have also looked at the ways by which debtors should be providing means. For example, people can apply for orders to obtain information. As I have already said, the Government recognise that effective enforcement is crucial to ensuring a successful civil justice system. However, we are not planning a return to imposing prison sentences for debtors who do not pay their debts.

My Lords, does not the Question highlight the need for effective enforcement in many areas—of sanctions against directors of companies of dubious commercial legitimacy and, in particular, a more determined use of directors’ disqualification proceedings against directors who trade fraudulently or while insolvent?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There are more than 85,000 park homes across 2,000 sites and such instances occur. That is why the Government are taking steps to tackle site owners who take advantage of tenants and then reregister themselves as another company. Through the changes we are bringing forward, we are ensuring that local authorities will issue licences to directors who apply to set up other companies, therefore giving them greater control over the issuing of such licences to people who have been found to be neglectful of their responsibility to their tenants.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, is well known throughout the House for his support of park home owners’ properties. What sort of protection and advice can Her Majesty’s Government give to such owners on their heating appliances? I gather that in Cornwall in the past 12 months, four people have died as a result of gases and noxious fumes from their heating appliances. Do the Government have any advice for park home owners to help them with this problem?

I thank my noble friend for his question, which raises a very important issue. Again, this comes down to the site owners, who are responsible for the provision of utilities on the sites. The Government are considering more effective enforcement and looking to work with local authorities to ensure that utility provision is effective and, as my noble friend has highlighted, specifically that the health and safety of people who often may be unable to fend for themselves is protected against unscrupulous site owners.

My Lords, why do the Government not monitor county court judgments? It would give them valuable information that they could use in policy development.

I have already observed that we have to strike a balance. The other side of the coin is that various options are open to people in pursuing county court judgments, which are decisions of civil courts. It remains primarily the responsibility of creditors to achieve a resolution. A range of measures is available, including warrants of execution, attachments of earnings, third-party debt owners and orders for sale, all of which can help in getting a resolution on outstanding issues relating to the obtainment of payment.

My Lords, will my noble friend try and ensure that all owners of park homes are given clear guidance on the extra protection that they will have when the Bill that is completing its stages through Parliament becomes an Act? Will he do his very best to ensure that these vulnerable people are aware of their new rights?

My noble friend is correct. The Bill to which I alluded, and with which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, was greatly involved, seeks to ensure that those with mobile park homes are made aware of their rights and that the obligations of site owners are made clear. My noble friend makes a valid point that I shall take back to the department about the effectiveness of communication across the board in ensuring that the tenants in these properties are made fully aware of their rights.

My Lords, on carbon monoxide poisoning, to which the Minister referred, will he institute talks with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that installers receive appropriate training in the heating appliances that are appropriate for park home owners? The quality of installation is well recognised to be a big problem.

I agree with the noble Lord. I remember that when I was a local councillor dealing with these issues on Traveller sites, exactly that kind of undertaking was given by the local authority to ensure the effective and safe provision of utilities. The noble Lord makes a valid suggestion that I am sure we all want to take forward.