Motion to Approve
The regulations were laid before this House on 8 July 2020. Their purpose is to prohibit the use of land as a residential mobile home site unless the local authority is satisfied that the owner, or manager, of the site is a fit and proper person to do so.
I begin with the background to these important regulations. The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone, including park home residents, has a safe, secure and affordable place to live. Park home sites make a valuable contribution to the housing sector. The majority of site owners in England provide a professional service to their residents, most of whom are elderly and many are among the most vulnerable people in our society. Sadly, their good work can be overshadowed by the minority of unscrupulous operators within the sector.
To address ongoing problems caused by such unscrupulous operators, the Government introduced the Mobile Homes Act 2013, which implemented a new local authority site licensing regime in England. In 2017, the Government carried out a review of the park homes legislation. The evidence indicated that the measures introduced under the 2013 Act had brought significant improvements to the sector. For example, site owners blocking residents from selling their homes had been eliminated and the pitch fee review process had become more open and transparent. However, the review demonstrated that some site owners continued to exploit financially and harass vulnerable residents. In some cases, residents were asked to pay £40,000 for a new long-term agreement to stay on a site, something that should have been given to them for free in the first place. In others, the use of variable service charges led to increases in pitch fees of about £1,000 a year. These practices are unacceptable. Unscrupulous site owners must not be allowed to extract ever more cash from those who may already be on fixed or low incomes, or to harass or intimidate them without any fear of being sanctioned. The case for change is compelling.
These regulations will level the playing field for the majority of good site owners and help drive up standards of management and conduct across the park homes sector. Site owners who manage their sites professionally need not be concerned about meeting the required standards, but the minority who continue to abuse and exploit residents will have to improve or make way for more professional people to manage the site.
The regulations will prohibit the use of land as a residential mobile home site unless the local authority is satisfied that the owner or manager of the site is a fit and proper person to do so. The site owner will be required to provide mandatory information, such as whether they have committed certain offences or breached certain legislation, to enable the local authority to assess the applicant’s suitability to manage the site.
A range of other factors, such as the conduct of the applicant, may also affect an applicant’s suitability. That is why these regulations give local authorities the discretion that they need to make informed and holistic decisions. The regulations will also require local authorities to establish and maintain an online register of people who they are satisfied are fit and proper to manage a site in their area. This will mean that existing residents, prospective purchasers and other local authorities will know who is managing each site and whether any conditions are attached to their entry on the register. Should any site owner fail to maintain high standards of conduct and management after they have been placed on the register, a local authority will be able to review their entry and either remove them, attach new conditions or vary an existing condition attached to that entry. If the local authority rejects an application or removes a person from the register, and the site owner is unable to find an alternative fit and proper manager, the local authority will be able to appoint a new manager, with consent from the site owner.
In recognition of the severity of abuses within the sector which these regulations will tackle, there will be serious penalties for site owners who do not comply. Conviction under any offences under these regulations could result in an unlimited fine. The regulations will also enable a local authority to revoke a site licence in certain circumstances.
Our local authorities are working hard to enforce standards in the park homes sector, so we are mindful of the risks of putting new burdens on them; that is why we have given them the power to charge application and annual fees to cover the cost of their work. The test will also be implemented in two stages. The first stage will run from when the regulations are made until 1 July 2021 to allow local authorities to prepare to receive and assess applications. The second stage will run from 1 July 2021 until 1 October 2021, by which time all existing site operators must have submitted an application to the local authority. In addition, we will publish detailed guidance to assist local authorities and site operators to understand their responsibilities under the new legislation.
These vital regulations form part of the comprehensive programme of work that we announced in 2018 to improve the sector and the lives of park home residents. They are necessary to drive up standards of management and conduct across the park homes sector and to ensure residents’ rights are respected. I commend them to the House.
My Lords, I am very grateful to be able to take part in this debate. It is the first time I have spoken in a debate with the Minister and I congratulate him. These are very strong and tough regulations, which are clearly necessary. I commend the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Kirkhope, on the work that they have put in over the years in bringing all this to the Government’s attention, and I commend the Government on bringing these regulations before the House.
From the Explanatory Memorandum, it is clear that there is a great deal of work for local authorities to do—and rightly so. It starts off with considering applications, in paragraph 7.8, and goes on to maintaining a register, in paragraph 7.10, and the monitoring that goes with it. Paragraph 7.13 talks about the ability to reject applications and, of course, requesting further information. I can see that local authorities will have a lot of work to do to get the information from the kind of people who may be covered by this regulation.
Of course, lots more information is needed. There is the ability to appeal to a First-tier Tribunal and there are three criminal offences. This is really good and important, but can the Minister give any idea of how much each application might cost if opposed? He said that local authorities would be able to charge to cover their costs, but is there going to be a limit to how much they can charge? I am really concerned about local authorities’ ability to deal with this along with all the other work that they have been given at the moment. How much extra money, if any, has been given to them for this? I am sure that the Minister will say that the Government have given enormous amounts of funds to local authorities this year, but they have also given them a lot of extra work to do.
Finally, can the Minister give me some indication as to how many applications around the country are likely to be received in the first year or two and try to give us as much comfort as possible that local authorities will have the ability and resources to deal with them? These are important regulations, and I look forward to listening to some of the comments from the experts who are following me.
My Lords, I strongly support these regulations, which are very important for the protection of vulnerable people living on mobile home sites. The need for these regulations, which ensure the safety of those living on mobile home sites, is illustrated by one of the most despicable cases in recent years: the 2013 discovery on a mobile home site in south Wales of two persons who had been enslaved for 13 years.
In September 2013, following a tip-off, police raided a site outside Newport and discovered human slavery at its worst. One of those rescued, Darrell Simester, who was originally from Kidderminster, published a book some three years later describing the 13 years of hell that he had endured as a slave. Darrell, who has autism, was first forced to work for 15 hours a day, without pay, in appalling conditions. He worked on a farm for two meals a day, and for 11 of the 13 years had to wash himself in a horse trough. For the final few years, he lived in a caravan in terrible conditions, wearing filthy clothes and losing some of his teeth. Thankfully, Darrell now lives independently with support, and the perpetrators have received long prison sentences.
This site was, however, listed by the local authority—certainly for most of the time Darrell was incarcerated there. That is why this legislation is so urgently needed: to give protection to vulnerable people like Darrell and to support those harassed by unscrupulous owners of sites.
I have some questions that I hope the Minister can answer. First, what reassurance does this legislation provide for close collaboration between the police and local authorities? In the case I referred to it was the police who received a tip-off and initiated action. This legislation places the responsibility on much-stretched local authorities. How will this important relationship between local authorities and the police be managed? I understand that some of it will be covered by DBS certificates.
My second, and not unrelated, question, is about the nature of “a fit and proper person”. Schedule 3 lists the criteria for judging whether the site manager is fit and proper to do the job. Most importantly, the criteria on harassment need to be clarified, because they refer to whether the relevant person
“has harassed any person in, or in connection with, the carrying on of any business”.
Does that mean a conviction for harassment, or would a recorded complaint of harassment be sufficient for the police?
In supporting these regulations, therefore, I hope that the Minister can answer those two questions.
My Lords, I had the privilege of taking the Mobile Homes Act 2013 through the House. It came to us as a Private Member’s Bill from the other place, where it had been brilliantly championed and piloted through its legislative stages by my colleague Peter Aldous MP.
Then and subsequently, I visited a number of these residential park home sites and met the usually retired and sometimes vulnerable residents, the owners of these static caravans. In some cases, a happy community has become established and the management of the site is perfectly satisfactory. It has, however, been shocking to learn of the exploitation, harassment and intimidation at the hands of site owners—some with criminal records—who have acquired sites expressly to extract hefty pitch fees from the residents with threats of cutting off electricity and gas supplies, or, worse, to bully elderly residents into leaving so the site owner could make big profits when the mobile homes were sold.
At the time of the 2013 Act, we debated the issue of requiring managers of park home sites to be “fit and proper persons”. Although the Act provided for such a requirement, it was hoped that the other measures in the legislation would be so successful in ending the bad behaviour of a minority of dreadful operators that this extra step would be unnecessary. The Act did indeed outlaw some dreadful abuses and has made a very real difference to the lives of many of the 180,000 people who occupy these homes. But sadly, as predicted at the time, appalling behaviour by a few site owners has persisted and the measure before us today—albeit a little slow in emerging, with its implementation coming eight years after the Act—is very necessary, as is agreed by the reputable site owners’ trade body, the British Holiday & Park Homes Association.
The question in my mind is: will the fit and proper person test be adequately enforced? Will local authorities have the resources, skills and motivation to make this new requirement a reality? Will MHCLG accompany the new obligation before us today with the funds and central government support that can make it meaningful? Fees charged to the site owners seem likely to be no more than £250 to £500 for a five-year certification of fit and proper status. This is equivalent to £50 to £100 per site per annum, so a council with 10 park home sites —not untypical—could only count on £500 to £1,000 a year to ensure its officers were trained and equipped to apply and enforce the fit and proper person test, sometimes having to pursue some pretty slippery customers. So, in strongly supporting the regulation, I ask the noble Lord the Minister for some reassurance that local authorities will be funded and assisted to implement it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, who has unparalleled knowledge and experience in this area; we all owe him a massive debt for his work in this area. I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out so lucidly this measure on mobile homes, which I very much welcome.
We know that there are many very effective site managers who provide a valuable service but, alas, there is a small minority who disregard the law and harass and exploit residents, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord German, who gave a particularly graphic and appalling example. The Explanatory Memorandum published for these regulations confirms that failure to introduce this measure would result in many vulnerable and elderly residents
“continuing to suffer from poor and unprofessional behaviour”.
I agree with that assessment, and I am very pleased that we are acting.
I have several questions for my noble friend the Minister, which I am sure he will be able to answer but, if he is not able to on this occasion, I am happy to receive a letter. The first relates to the “fit and proper person” and the local register. I am concerned that this register—indeed, not just the register but the background to it—should be something that can be shared with other local authorities and with other bodies and communities, such as the Gypsy and Traveller community. In parentheses, I am very pleased to see that MHCLG has been engaging with the Gypsy and Traveller community, and I thank it for doing so.
It is important that we have communication and collaboration between different local authorities so that experience can be shared. I know from the Public Services Committee, on which I serve and which is looking at the aftermath of Covid, how important the ability to share data is. I know that, sometimes, there are bars to this and I wonder if the Minister can say anything about how we can cut through the general data protection regulation if it is providing an unnecessary impediment to collaboration. I also hope that the devolved Administrations are able to play a part and share their experience. All the devolved Administrations have separate laws, though parallel and similar in some respects, but it would be good to know that they can collaborate and communicate.
I also ask about Schedules 2 and 3 of the regulations, in so far as the impact on other bodies that are able to serve as managers—I think particularly of companies. I would welcome reassurance from the Minister that we are ensuring that those serving on the companies—directors and shadow directors—are not disqualified and not insolvent and that that information can be shared more widely too.
With that, I very much welcome this measure and thank the Minister for bringing it forward.
My Lords, having been in dispute with the powers that be over the peremptory truncation of this debate, I shall simply place on record the comments of Ros Pritchard, who heads the British Holiday & Home Parks Association, the lead trade body. She wrote:
“We are concerned that the fit-and-proper scheme as proposed will not meet its objective as a deterrent to the worst site owners. We feel that the bureaucratic system will give official fit-and-proper endorsement to park owners already denounced as rogues. We provided evidence to the Government about fit-and-proper regimes introduced in Wales which led to not one application being refused under a tick-box approach. Sadly, this system has given an endorsement to some of the very park owners already denounced as rogues. We also provided evidence showing how powers provided to local authorities under the Mobile Homes Act 2013 were simply not used or used ineffectively. Councils have neither resources nor expertise to implement these essential powers. Their legal departments feel forced to adopt a cautious approach to mobile homes regulations. When faced with applications by rogue park owners with expert legal teams, they feel obliged to grant fit-and-proper endorsement to avoid expensive legal challenge. Where one authority approves, others who refuse will become more vulnerable to the legal challenges, thereby discouraging even more authorities from effective action. These regulations only require the manager to meet criteria about background. With the legal structure of the business easily arranged by rogue operators, many councils will lack both resources and expertise to question business practices. He who pays the piper will call the tune, despite the fit-and-proper status of appointed managers. Finally, why impose on local authorities a regime which unnecessarily only replicates the role of individual officers? Sadly, the only people that benefit on this system will be lawyers dealing with appeals following inconsistent decisions and not vulnerable homeowners who deserve the protection of effective licensing systems. We need government to ensure consistency, resource and expertise in tackling rogue park operators. These regs are not enough.”
That note from Ros, edited by me, deserves a full response from Ministers: if not today, then I hope they will put it in writing.
My Lords, these regulations are an important milestone of the Mobile Homes Act. The Government have carried out considerable consultation in two stages. It is right that proper scrutiny is carried out on the site owner and the site manager about their integrity and ability to operate the site professionally. They give the powers to local authorities to make a proper assessment of both the owner and the site manager so that there cannot be any criminals among the owners or the site managers before issuing a licence for a site.
The regulations also provide an appeal provision for the site owner and the site manager if their application is rejected by the local authority. If the owner or the manager breaches the conditions of the lease, there is an unlimited fine that can be imposed. A repeat of the offence could enable the local authority to withdraw or remove the manager or the owner. The most important aspect of these regulations is that they will protect residents who are elderly and vulnerable. Whatever government regulations are made must protect the residents.
There appears to be no provision for the residents who are unable to pay their rents. The site owners run these sites as a business and are entitled to receive the monthly rents. If the rents are not paid, the owners are entitled to evict the tenants. This will create a problem for the local authorities, which will have to find accommodation to avoid homelessness. According to a report from Shelter and other agencies, the Government’s decision to allow landlords to evict tenants is going to make more than 100,000 people, including single mothers with children, homeless. A balance must be found between the rights of the landlord and those of the tenants in this Covid era.
My Lords, I am pleased to support these regulations and I particularly congratulate the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Best, on pursuing them so strongly. All of us who have ever been elected representatives know that the issue of mobile homes has been a regular part of our post box, especially in regard to the treatment of those who choose this way of life by those who control sites.
Many people for various reasons want the option of acquiring a fixed or static home on the numerous and ever-growing number of sites around the country. Some are mobile homes that can be moved easily and are on sites where permanent residence is not permitted, but others are park homes where the licence permits permanent residence. It is the latter where the new protections afforded by this measure are most needed.
My noble friend knows that, unlike a normal house, such a home on a site does not have the same advantages. For instance, mortgages are not normally possible. Unlike other property, there can be no expectation of increased values. There are uncertain and sometimes excessive maintenance costs. Often a commission is charged by a site owner on sales. Energy bills are often under the sole control of the site owner. The site normally remains in the possession of the site owner, whose title may be tenuous. The rent or occupation agreement may be short and renewal is not always guaranteed. The occupancy itself may be subject to onerous site rules. Of course, there are inheritance issues on the death of an occupant. I have heard of many cases of dispute where the behaviour of site owners or their corporate representatives has been either threatening or discriminatory or where rules have been used as a way of spoiling the peaceful enjoyment and tenure of the site for individuals.
These regulations are a positive step, but can I press my noble friend on the following quick points? How will the definition of fit and proper person be made and how will it be regularised? Will the date for stage 1— July 2021—be rigidly adhered to by local authorities in their preparations? How will local authorities appoint a fit and proper person to control a site if the owners cannot themselves provide one? Under the regulations, the register of fit and proper persons will stand for up to five years. Will monitoring take place on a regular basis to maintain standards and will complaints about conduct be promptly investigated and registration removed in appropriate cases without undue bureaucracy and pressure on residents? Finally, in the case of companies or corporate management, how will the fit and proper designation be assessed? I am sure these regulations, although overdue, will be widely welcomed and the protection afforded should give some comfort at least to all those who choose a park home life.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma. This debate is about the regulation of park homes, but we are in a context where we have a broader problem with the insecurity of private tenants in a wide range of circumstances and under a wide range of tenures, some of whom arrive in park homes after terrible experiences in other accommodation. We have a long way to go to provide everyone with a secure, genuinely affordable, comfortable, appropriately sized place to live.
This is a very small step towards tackling one area of this problem and I welcome these regulations, which reflect those that have existed in Wales since 2014. But I associate myself with the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about the costs to local authorities and how they are going to meet them and find the technical resources and skills. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for setting out the scale of the challenge.
I also note the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. Many of us will know from the experience of planning how local authorities can feel underpowered legally and underfinanced when trying to act in the interests of residents in their communities.
I have a couple of direct questions for the Minister that I hope he may be able to answer. I raised this issue with the Association of Green Councillors, and it came back to me with concern about a company controlling several sites and this being a source of problems and distance. Who would be the fit and proper person who oversees a number of sites, or would there have to be a person nominated on each site? How will we be able to ensure that they operate in an independent manner?
When the owner is also the manager—particularly in the case that the Minister noted in his introduction—can the local authority, if there is a not a fit and proper person, appoint a new manager with consent from the site owner? It is easy to imagine a problem where a site owner has been declared not a fit and proper person and then becomes obstructive and difficult to handle.
If a licence is revoked, what will happen to the residents? A number of noble Lords have referred to the many problems that residents encounter. I have seen sites where residents have had to buy gas bottles at grossly inflated prices, and where a large number of trees have been felled without consultation or prior advice, with a real impact on the amenity of the residents. There is clearly a problem. This is a step towards tackling it, but our debate today has revealed that a lot of work will have to be done to turn this into an effective mechanism to protect some of the often vulnerable residents of park homes.
My Lords, I also welcome the broad thrust of these proposals. I pay great tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for persevering with his Private Member’s Bill. I note that the first review took place in 2017; it seems important that there be another review in another three years at an absolute maximum.
I do not want to repeat what the noble Lords, Lord Kirkhope, Lord Best and Lord Campbell-Savours, have said, but they made very valid comments. I shall just say that I was a leader of a local authority for a number of years, and we always had problems with the Gypsy community. That is going back quite a few years; nevertheless there are still challenges in that area, and I wonder how the local authorities will be able to deal with those challenges. It is not too far-fetched to think that they will still be wrestling with the results of Covid-19 in the early part of 2021. If that is the situation—and we debated earlier today the roles of local authorities, which are very extensive in relation to Covid-19—I just wonder whether those local authorities are going to have the resources and, more importantly, the skill to do the job. My noble friend on the Front Bench may well remember that in the early days of health and safety regulations, the key problem was the lack of skilled manpower at a local authority level to carry out the relevant objectives.
Finally, I used to own a mobile home in France, although my daughter owns it now. The French had a similar problem to ours, not to the extent of the Traveller community but in general terms. They produced a special tax, a sort of extra rate, called the taxe d’habitation, to finance qualified people to do proper inspections of these sites. With that, I will support what is proposed this afternoon.
My Lords, we very much welcome this secondary legislation, but all Governments have always been rather behind the curve on this issue which, when many of us were elected representatives, appeared on our desks all too often. Although I very much welcome it personally, many residents who have suffered previously from the actions of site owners feel as cynical as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, described. They feel very strongly that these organisations —the managers and companies that are the rogues—often find their way around these regulations. Having said that, I shall come on to enforcement later.
We have to remember that this is not just a minority interest: there are some 85,000 households in park homes on more than 2,000 sites and, as the Minister has rightly said, they are older, less well-off, more vulnerable people. The problem is that the power in this area is very asymmetric, not least, often, when satisfied residents find that the ownership of their site has been transferred and there is a whole regime change, not just in the legal landlord but in the tone and the way that those sites are managed. The key issue is that of circumvention, either by having different site managers come in, or indeed by changing the ownership of the company that legally owns the sites. These are methods that have been used in the past to get around similar regulations.
As I understand it, having read the regulations, it is either/or—either the site manager or the owner has to be approved in this way, not both. It seems to me very important that, never mind the site manager, the owning company or person also needs to be approved: it needs to be a dual process and I understand that that is not the case at the moment. As the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Berkeley, said only too well, the key issue here is one of enforcement: many residents on rogue sites at the moment feel that local authorities have just not had the resources or perhaps even the wish to get heavily involved with these companies and actually implement the legislation. I welcome very much the Minister restating that fines will be unlimited in this area, but they have to be imposed. Until they are and those fines stop being part of the cost of operating these sites, the abuses will continue.
I have a number of other questions. I am pleased that so-called grandfather rights do not apply here and that all existing site owners have to be registered; I welcome that very much. Are the Government looking further at the 10% commission fee on the sale of mobile homes or park homes on these sites, which is still highly contentious? Will the Government liaise closely with local authorities on implementation of these regulations? I think it is important that we share information, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said very strongly and correctly. There is ample scope here for one authority approving an owner while others do not, and a risk that that will discourage councils from not approving particular individuals.
As for fines, this again leads into the judicial process, but it is very important that they are at a level that actually deter once enforcement takes place. Lastly, some site owners are foreign companies and I presume—I would be interested to hear from the Minister—that they will have to comply equally. What legal measures can be taken against them if they do not comply? That is important.
We very much welcome these regulations but the key thing, as all Members have said, is that they need to be enforced. The fines need to be substantial, not just operating costs on business. We need this to be a turning point for some 85,000 households, with all of them feeling secure in their form of living and their residences.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I fully support the regulations before the House today. I have a few comments and observations, but I do not intend to delay the House for very long. We have had a good debate and many of the points that I was going to raise have been raised. There is no point repeating those questions. We have heard that the regulations’ purpose is to prohibit the use of land as a protected caravan site, unless the local authority is satisfied that the owner or manager is a fit and proper person to run that site.
I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, that it is important that everybody can live in a safe and secure home. That right is just as important for people living on caravan sites and in park homes, so for that reason I support these regulations. But giving this power to local authorities enables them to have the discretion to ensure that sites are properly run, and that residents of park homes are protected. My noble friend Lord Berkeley rightly highlighted that ensuring that these regulations are effective will require considerable work from local authorities. We have to ensure that these regulations are effective; many noble Lords mentioned that point.
I was here in the Chamber for an earlier debate, where regulations again put further obligations on local authorities. But of course, with obligations come costs; we have to ensure that the authorities have the funds to do this. I look forward to a detailed response from the Minister about the level of fees that can be charged. Having these costs fully covered is essential and it is important that we ensure that that happens. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out, this needs to be adequately resourced because it will take some time. I want at this point to pay tribute to his work in getting such legislation on the statute book.
I think I agreed with all the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, particularly those about how important it is to share information and ensure that it is available. With that in mind, may I make a plea to the Minister? If in the next few weeks we are to have some emergency legislation with respect to the private rented sector, can we look at the whole question of the rogue landlords database? When that database was created, the Government decided that they did not want to make it public. We won votes here in the Lords but the Government would not listen. Then, six months later, the Government changed their minds and said that they wanted to make it public. Then they said, “We haven’t got time to get it on the statute book.” If we are to look at legislation for private renters, will the Government please ensure that they make that database public? The Government want that, we want it and I think the tenants want it as well.
Finally, the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, were important because the issue is about enforcement. As I have said, it is great putting regulations in place, but if they are not enforced they will have little effect. In a small minority of cases, we are clearly dealing with some very difficult people who do not respect the law and treat people appallingly. We need to ensure that the local authorities have all the powers they need. They need to be properly resourced to make this effective. With that, I look forward to the response from the Minister to the points raised in the debate.
My Lords, we have had a fascinating and wide-ranging debate on the regulations before us today, and I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions. I take this opportunity to provide responses to the questions asked of me and the points raised.
The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy, Lord Berkeley and Lord Campbell-Savours, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the issue of local authority resources. We are mindful of the risks of putting new burdens on local authorities—we have the new burdens doctrine—and that is why we have given them the power to charge application and annual fees to cover the cost of the work needed to drive up standards. As required by the Provision of Services Regulations 2009, fees charged by local authorities must be reasonable and cover their costs only. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, wanted to know the number of applications likely to be received. There are 2,000 sites in England, so that means 2,000 applications.
The noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Teverson, addressed the importance of consumer protection. The terrible case in which criminality was involved, raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, was very striking. These regulations introduce three criminal offences. If a site owner is convicted of any one of these, they face a penalty up to an unlimited fine. If convicted twice for operating a site in contravention of the regulations, the local authority may apply to the magistrates’ court or the First-tier Tribunal for an order to revoke the site licence. We expect local authorities to use this power as a last resort only, as it could lead to the closure of the site and put residents at risk of homelessness. To avoid this happening, the Government will explore giving local authorities powers, as part of the forthcoming primary legislation, to apply to the First-tier Tribunal to install an interim site manager to take over management of a site where a site licence may need to be revoked.
I take the point about the need to interact with the police. As a local authority leader, it is very much part of local authorities’ DNA to have strong connections with the local police force. That also answers the point from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that, for a fine to be effective, it needs to be implemented. Intelligence needs to be shared between the local authority and the police, and between local authorities.
A number of noble Lords raised the effectiveness of regulations. My noble friend Lord Kirkhope and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, should be aware that the local authority will keep all the people placed on the register under review. Complaints from residents can precipitate removal from the register. I recognise the concerns raised about unscrupulous site owners hiding behind an organisation or putting another individual forward for the test to avoid scrutiny themselves. These regulations address this by ensuring that the test focuses on the actual person managing the site. They do this by requiring the provision of certain information and a criminal record certificate, in some cases, about responsible persons and company officers who are involved in the management of the site or have responsibilities for its day-to-day management.
Local authorities may also request any additional information they consider relevant to an application and may have regard to the conduct of any person associated, or formerly associated, with the relevant person, whether on a personal, work or other basis. My noble friend Lord Bourne asked whether the test is structured to avoid loopholes, as some may have complex arrangements. I assure noble Lords that all the loopholes have been covered and, where the site owner is a company, details of all the relevant officers of the organisation will be required. Local authorities can also ask for relevant information. This applies to companies whether they are located in the UK or abroad. On sharing information, local authorities have to make this register public and are encouraged to share information from it. I note the point from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about the need to publicise data from the rogue landlords database. I will take that matter away and look into it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and my noble friend Lord Kirkhope, raised the issue of how the fit and proper test would work. It will apply to the site licence holder or the person appointed by the site licence holder to manage a “relevant protected site”, which is one for which a site licence is required and on which year-round residential occupation is allowed. The test will also apply to a prospective site licence holder who has applied to the local authority for a site licence.
Relevant protected sites are predominantly park home sites. However, that definition also includes owner-occupied sites, which are those occupied by a single family and not operated commercially—for example, those with planning permission for use by Gypsy and Traveller communities. We have exempted those owner-occupied sites from the requirements, as the regulations would place a disproportionate burden on those single families.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised the issue of the 10% commission on the sale of a home. Under the Mobile Homes Act 1983, a site owner is entitled to a commission of up to 10% of the price of a mobile home upon sale. The Government recognise that the payment of a commission has divided opinion over the years, continues to raise concerns and creates uncertainty with residents and site owners. From previous reviews that have looked at this issue, it is clear that there are likely impacts on residents and site owners if changes are made to the rate of commission that is payable. Therefore, it is important that any ongoing debates or discussions about changing the commission rate are based on data, facts and an accurate assessment of the impacts on the sector. There is currently no data available to accurately measure any of those impacts, which is why the Government have committed to undertake research to gather the relevant data. We have undertaken some initial scoping work to identify gaps in the existing evidence base to ensure that the research is thorough and comprehensive.
I recognise that a number of points about implementation and the guidance available were raised by my noble friend Lord Naseby and the noble Lords, Lord Kirkhope and Lord Teverson. In the interests of time, I will write to them on those matters. I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Kirkhope, for their work on the Mobile Homes Act 2013. This statutory instrument is testament to their work holding the Government’s feet to the fire. This is not the end of the road; we are looking at primary legislation, when parliamentary time allows, to pick up many of the points raised during this debate.
I reiterate that the majority of site owners are responsible and compliant, make a valuable contribution to the housing market and provide well-maintained and safe sites for their residents. However, a minority knowingly flout their responsibilities and exploit their residents, most of whom are elderly, vulnerable and on low incomes. These regulations are necessary to protect and improve the lives, health and well-being of park home residents.
In conclusion, park home residents are all too often exploited and suffer poor treatment. They deserve our protection and support. We have made good progress in recent years, but there is more to be done. These regulations will ensure that all site owners, not just the good ones, meet the required standards of management and conduct. Unscrupulous site owners will have to change their behaviour or find a more competent person to manage the site. Once again, I am very grateful for noble Lords’ time and contributions, and I commend the regulations to the House.