Pensioners fear they will lose their homes in battle over site fees increase
Pensioners at a residential caravan park say their lives are being made a misery and they fear they will lose their homes in a dispute with the new owners of their site.
Caravan owners at the Westend Residential Park off Blackpool Road near Kirkham say they have been hit with a huge increase in site fees by Hill Brothers Residential and Leisure Parks and feel they are being bullied.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies has intervened in the dispute and says he is very concerned about the way the residents, most over 70 and many infirm, have been treated.
The residents say the demands from site bosses means the fees rocketed by almost 100 per cent, far higher than recommended increases allowed in law, and that the park looks like a building site as it has had no improvements carried out for years.
The company, which has more than 14 parks across the north, bought the Fylde site in December 2018 and in November 2019 called an ad-hoc meeting with most of the residents at a hotel in Morecambe where the firm has its headquarters.
The residents say the meeting went on for six hours during which they were pressured into signing new contracts after being told existing contracts were "null and void" and they could face eviction.
One of the residents, Alan Haworth, 74, who has lived at Westend for six years with his wife Jean, said the residents were desperate.
He said: "We have people over 80 years old living here, who should be enjoying a quiet retirement, but we are frightened we are going to lose our homes and are having to fight."
He said the residents have taken the owners to a tribunal in Manchester, which has been delayed due to the effects of the pandemic, but the owners have since threatened them with county court instead.
Mr Haworth said: "This was a hastily arranged meeting at a hotel in Morecambe. Not everyone on the site got an invitation. But we passed word around and nearly all went up, sharing cars.
"When we got there Richard Hill from the owners and Peter Ball from Prestige Trading Company the park managers addressed us. Mr Hill told us that the previous contract we had with the old owners was now null and void and that residents were liable for eviction. As an alternative we could sign a new contract but that involved a ground rent increase of almost 100 per cent. It means monthly fees go from £148 to £295 which is too high.
"Those who asked for time to consider or talk it over with their lawyers were told that failure to sign immediately would result in eviction or at the very least, an agreement on even less favourable terms later. We all ended up signing. We later realised this was foolish and so we contacted the Independent Park Homes Advisory Service who told us that what we had been told at the meeting was wrong.
"We believe we were pressured into signing under duress. We then wrote to Prestige to tell them we would continue paying fees at the old rate not the new one and that's what we have been doing ever since.
"We have gone to the tribunal to have those November 19 agreements declared invalid, but lawyers from the owners have threatened to take us to county court for not paying the new rate. We are all pensioners, some not very well at all, we cannot afford court fees and lawyers' fees. Now we are getting demands for arrears of over £3,000 which is very frightening."
He added that under the Mobile Homes Act of 2013 site owners should give residents 28 days notice of an increase in fees and are not supposed to increase fees by more than the RPI rate of inflation, unless huge improvement works have been carried out to the site.
He added: "They clearly do not want the older people on this site. They want us out. They clearly think this is a luxury site like Ribby Hall, but it isn't. No proper work has been done for years and the electricity supply needs looking at. The supply boxes are not secured and one, which kept tripping out, has had work done on it with wires everywhere that does not look safe."
An elderly woman resident, who was too frightened to be named, said: "These last two years have been a nightmare. The pressure they put us under is terrible. We have written to them registered post since about the contract but get no reply. We just get demands for payment.
"I can't afford to pay these new fees and I am frightened of losing my home."
Another elderly man said: "We are stuck. People don't think they can sell their homes here because they won't get a reasonable price because of all this. We just don't know what to do and are waiting for the tribunal to decide."
Fylde MP Mark Menzies has written to the company but said he had not had a reply.
He said: “I was deeply concerned worried to hear about the ad-hoc meeting called in Morecambe.
“According to the Mobile Homes Act, which the Government introduced to stop site owners inflating prices, the fees should rise by no more than the retail price index every year unless there has been substantial changes to the level of amenities on the site. There appear to have been little or no changes to the amenities, and the owners have not yet finished the site.
“I wrote to the owners who are yet to respond to my letter, and I have alerted Fylde Council to a number of potential planning issues on the site.”
Fylde Council confirmed they had received several complaints about the site.
A spokesman said: "We are aware of the challenges at the site with reference to the increase in site fees and that the matter is being considered by a tribunal, outside the scope of Fylde Council – there is a process for challenging fees which is being followed.
"We have visited the site recently and have obtained an electrical safety report which is receiving further consideration. We can confirm that a number of complaints have been received which are also being individually reviewed and are receiving consideration."
A spokesman for the Manchester tribunals said: "We can confirm we have received cases relating to the Westend Residential Park. It is a very early stage."
Blackpool Gazette asked Hill Brothers Residential and Leisure Parks for a comment but none was offered.