Chapter Five Conclusions
5.1 This chapter draws together the main conclusions of the report. In so doing, the chapter aims to inform policy developments by identifying possible areas where action might be required. The conclusions are discussed under the headings of the aims and objectives of the research, which were set out in section 1.8.
Identify the number, location and composition of licensed mobile homes sites throughout Scotland, and where possible, identify unlicensed sites and quantify the extent of isolated single units.
5.2 The 2001 Census data showed that a very small proportion of the population in Scotland lived in caravans, mobile homes or other temporary structures (0.21 per cent). However, there were some concentrations in the number of caravans and mobile homes in some local authority areas. The local authority with the highest proportion of households living in caravans or mobile homes was Midlothian, where 1.1 per cent of all households lived in these types of accommodation. There were other concentrations in authorities such as Moray, Highland and Argyll and Bute.
5.3 The local authority survey identified a total of 4,121 residential mobile homes. This total included sites licensed for residential use, residential units on mixed sites with holiday pitches as well, individual residential mobile homes used by staff on sites licensed for holiday use, and an estimate of individual units within authorities. However, it should be noted that few respondents to the local authority survey felt in a position to estimate the number of single units within their areas. Therefore, the total of 4,121 represents an underestimate of the total number of residential mobile homes in Scotland.
5.4 The tenure profile of mobile homes in Scotland was quite distinctive compared with England and Wales. A far greater proportion of residents rent their mobile homes from private landlords in Scotland compared with other countries within the United Kingdom. Thirty four per cent of mobile home residents in Scotland rented a caravan, mobile home or other temporary structure from a private landlord compared with 18 per cent in England and Wales. A proportion of these tenants lived on licensed sites, but many were also living in individual units, including accommodation that was tied with employment or provided for seasonal workers.
Explore the reasons why people are living in mobile homes and their length of residence, looking at factors that have led them into the sector, their previous housing history and their aspirations for the future, particularly their ability to access affordable housing
5.5 Respondents described a variety of reasons for wanting to live in mobile homes, and often there wasn't a single reason, but rather a combination of motivations for moving into mobile homes. The most common factor across the case study areas, and also between park home residents on licensed sites and residents in individual units, was financial considerations. In the Midlothian case study, most respondents had moved from Edinburgh, where many noted that house prices were too high for them to afford to move into the type of accommodation they were looking for. Similarly, in accessible rural and remote rural areas in the other two case study areas house prices were viewed as way beyond what respondents could afford, or would require substantial renovation. In remote rural areas in particular, the supply of affordable alternatives to either rent or buy was viewed as especially problematic.
5.6 Other reasons for moving into a mobile home, especially park homes on licensed sites, was for lifestyle reasons: moving to a park home provided the opportunity to live in a picturesque location in an affordable way. These respondents emphasised the attractive qualities of the environment they lived in. In most cases, they stressed that they would not have been able to afford to live in these kinds of areas if park homes were not available. In contrast, a number of respondents noted that they were attracted to mobile home living as an affordable way of getting away from their previous neighbourhoods, which were felt to be plagued by crime and antisocial behaviour.
5.7 The 2001 Census showed that mobile homes were playing a particular role in the housing system in terms of providing accommodation for older people, and also for people with a long term limiting illness. Thus, mobile homes were a more important form of accommodation for potentially vulnerable households than the general population. However, the conclusions need to be mindful of making any inferences about cause and effect with respect to illness and mobile home occupation. A number of respondents in park homes who were living on licensed sites noted that they had made a positive choice to move into a park home because of their ill health. These respondents felt that mobile homes offered an affordable way of living in accessible accommodation, and which could readily be adapted to suit their needs. Further, there is the age profile of mobile home residents to consider. Older people were more likely to reside in this form of accommodation, with the associated link of increasing levels of long term limiting illnesses with age. However, the situation regarding individual units, especially caravans which were not intended for permanent occupation, was more ambiguous. In a couple of instances there was a perception amongst respondents that the condition of mobile homes was adversely affecting health. On the other hand, another respondent in an individual unit noted that living in their mobile home was preferable to the damp conditions they had left behind in their previous, bricks and mortar, home. It was not possible to arrive at a firm conclusion in this research about the health implications of different sub-sectors of mobile home living, and further work would be necessary to update the findings of previous studies such as Laing and Lindsay (1980).
Individual mobile homes
5.8 The individual mobile homes were playing very diverse roles, with some respondents noting that living in a mobile home was a temporary measure, either whilst they built their bricks and mortar homes, or whilst they looked for other accommodation. For other respondents, living in a mobile home was viewed as a permanent, and more than satisfactory, solution to their housing needs.
5.9 Individual mobile homes are a strong characteristic feature of mobile home living in Scotland. Previous in depth research at local level noted concentrations of individual mobile homes in parts of rural areas of Scotland (Alexander, 1992; Baxter et al, 1997). Although it was not possible to estimate the total number across Scotland, the case studies at local level both in Argyll and Bute and the Highlands also identified the presence of individual mobile homes. A diverse range of sources can be used to build up a picture of individual mobile homes at local level. Both the 2001 Census and the Valuation Roll provide data on the incidence of individual units. These sources of data can be supplemented at local level through discussions with local people to derive an estimate of numbers, and also an indication of the type of households who are occupying mobile homes.
Aspirations for the future: park home residents
5.10 The large majority of respondents living in park homes expressed considerable satisfaction with living in a mobile home. These residents were most likely to want to continue living in this form of accommodation. However, the evidence from the interviews with park home residents did suggest a degree of potential turnover, with a number of respondents stating that they intended to move. Further, a number of respondents identified specific difficulties that residents on their licensed sites experienced in relation to the commission rate, such as being charged 15 per cent commission, rather than the legally permitted rate of 10 per cent.
5.11 A number of respondents either had direct negative experiences of living in social rented accommodation, which had been a significant motivation on driving them to look for alternatives or had negative perceptions of the social rented sector. For these respondents, it was not a question of such accommodation being inaccessible to them - they made it clear that they would not want it even if it was available. A key point was that it was not so much the physical dwellings themselves that was the problem, but a perception that these respondents did not want to be exposed, or go back to, the potential for crime and anti-social behaviour. However, for other respondents, mainly in, or in close proximity to, urban areas, council or housing association accommodation was the only viable alternative. Respondents living in remote rural areas noted that the very limited supply of council or housing association accommodation realistically precluded a consideration of this form of accommodation.
Aspirations for the future: individual mobile homes
5.12There were diverse reasons amongst the respondents for occupying individual units, which was also reflected in their views on the future. In some instances, individual units were being occupied on a temporary basis, whilst respondents built their permanent, bricks and mortar, accommodation. In some other cases, occupation of a mobile home was viewed the only viable option, given a perceived lack of other affordable alternatives. The small number of respondents in this sub-sample means that care must be taken over drawing firm conclusions. Nevertheless, this material, coupled with the data from the case study locations highlighted in chapter two, reinforces the view put forward in housing needs surveys and strategy statements about the function of mobile homes in local housing markets in remote rural areas ( ODS, 2005, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar (2004). Whilst the use of caravans not intended for permanent occupation has been viewed as problematic, the fact remains that this accommodation plays an important role not only in local housing markets, but also in terms of helping lower income households remain in the communities of their choice. The continued occupation of these forms of accommodation also begs the question of viable alternatives for such households within these communities.
5.13 Further, an underlying theme running through the interviews with residents on individual units was the lack of an alternative affordable solution to housing needs in the remote rural areas where these people lived. Thus, the number of households living in individual mobile homes in remote rural areas can be regarded as indicative of stress in the housing market of these areas. Where such housing stress exists, there is a need for alternative housing to be available for people. Such housing needs to be affordable for mobile home residents and to suit their individual needs, including providing permanent accommodation if this is what is required. The need for alternative housing is particularly acute where residents of mobile homes are at risk of displacement through the serving of enforcement notices to remove mobile homes by statutory agencies.
Explore the nature and extent of any issues and problems experienced by residents of mobile homes in connection with their occupation and use of the home
5.14 The majority of respondents were very satisfied with living in mobile homes, although this feeling was not universal. Positive aspects of living in mobile homes included:
- More affordable accommodation, not just in terms of buying a home, but also maintenance, running costs - and less housework;
- An opportunity to live in very attractive locations that would otherwise be unaffordable;
- Living in a neighbourhood with like minded individuals, often with a strong sense of community;
- A safe environment, mostly free from anti-social behaviour;
- Accommodation that was accessible and readily adapted to suit a resident's needs.
Negative factors associated with mobile homes included:
- Vulnerability to bad weather;
- Expensiveness to heat;
- Living in caravans that were not intended for permanent residential occupation;
- Living in park homes could be affected by poor relations with the park owner.
5.15 The research also identified a range of specific problems experienced by respondents on licensed sites in relation to difficulties with a number of park owners. These difficulties included:
- Site owners and/or managers requiring homes to be sold through them, or blocking sales altogether;
- Damage to personal property;
- Allegations of harassment, intimidation and threatening behaviour;
- Increases in pitch fees at an unacceptable level;
- Inadequate supply of electricity to park homes;
- Poor maintenance of sites;
- Claiming over the legally permitted commission rate on the sale of park homes;
- Allegations of mis-selling on a couple of parks, where households were under the impression that they could occupy their home all year round, when in fact they were moving onto a pitch with a license for holiday use only;
- A small number of residents who stated that they did not have written agreements from their site owners.
5.16 The small number of respondents in this research who rented their homes all described relations with their landlords as good, but their experiences illustrated that there was considerable diversity with regard to the condition of their homes. These respondents also varied as to whether or not they had written tenancy agreements.
Affordable warmth and fuel poverty
5.17 The 2001 Census revealed that people who live in mobile homes are far less likely than the general population to have central heating. Further, the research indicated that fuel poverty was a very significant issue for some residents. Nineteen respondents living in park homes and in individual units stated that they were paying ten per cent or more of their incomes on fuel. This problem was exacerbated by the severe adverse weather that could affect some localities in Scotland where residents were either living in park homes or in individual units. In particular, a couple of the agencies in the case study areas noted the dangers of living in individual units resulting from very strong winds, occasionally resulting in the destruction of people's homes or worse. A number of respondents in individual mobile homes noted the specific measures they had taken to minimise the risk of damage during storms.
Consider the extent to which any problems identified are addressed by the existing and recently implemented legislation.
5.18 Park homes were a popular type of accommodation for the majority of respondents, and most were very satisfied with their homes. Although it was evident that most respondents were also satisfied with their site and the way in which it was managed, there were strong concerns about the management of a small number of sites across Scotland that would appear to merit policy attention.
5.19 Mobile homes are numerically a very small element of the housing system and occupy a small and intermittent element of work amongst the myriad of responsibilities facing statutory agencies. Nevertheless, the potentially vulnerable nature of a high proportion of people who live in the mobile home sector means that there is a greater onus on statutory agencies to ensure that the intended outcomes of legislation are both monitored and enforced.
5.20 Whilst it is important to have the necessary legislation in place to ensure adequate protection for park home residents on licensed sites, one of the themes running through the interviews with a number of respondents to the research was that enforcement was the key. In this respect, a number of respondents who described various difficulties about the way that sites were run were more concerned about adequate support to help residents to enforce their rights, rather than new legislation. One of the more invidious aspects of activities by unscrupulous park owners described by these respondents were threats to 'make life difficult' for residents who did not comply with their wishes, including instances of harassment reported by a small number of respondents, or alleged cases of intimidation of other park homes residents on the sites where respondents lived. Therefore, an important area for future attention might be an evaluation of the means that are currently available to enforce the legislation pertaining to park homes, including an assessment of the need for stronger penalties to deter unscrupulous behaviour by a small number of site owners.
5.21 Enforcement measures would need to be sensitive to the context in which breaches may be taking place. For example, threatening to revoke a site owner's license would be no good in situations where the park owner was causing difficulties for park home residents because the park owner was attempting to get the site closed, perhaps with a view to selling the land for development.
5.22 There was considerable frustration expressed by a number of respondents on different sites that perceived criminal acts by site owners and their representatives were treated as a civil matter by the relevant authorities. It would be helpful to clarify the circumstances in which residents of park homes can reasonably expect redress under criminal rather than civil law.
5.23 A further point raised by respondents during the research was the potential for damage or accidents to park homes, or to residents, as a result of the actions of site owners and their representatives. One example cited in this research was damage sustained to a park home when a site owner's representatives moved a park home, with the resident's permission, to another part of a site. There is a question mark over how far park home residents are adequately covered by the current legislation in cases such as these, or the extent to which park home residents can obtain adequate redress if site owners do not have public liability insurance in place.
5.24 In their study of harassment in the park homes sector, Marsh et al (2000) suggested that local authorities could be encouraged and helped to use the powers they have, whether through the issue of guidance explaining those powers in detail, or providing training for officers on the ground. A number of authorities stated that they already inspected licensed sites on an annual basis or when complaints about a site were received. Certainly, inspections could be targeted on those sites where complaints are regular and/or numerous. Where sites were evidently well run and complaints are few and far between, then inspections could take place on a more infrequent basis. One avenue for consideration therefore is the frequency with which local authorities should inspect licensed sites.
5.25 Marsh et al (2000) also suggested identifying named officers as a contact point and publicising the role of local authorities to park owners and residents, as well as raising awareness amongst resident of their rights. As noted by Marsh et al (2000), this latter development could be undertaken by any organisation such as a body representing park owners or a residents association, as well as a public sector agency. However, a readily identifiable point of contact within local authorities would also be helpful for landowners making enquiries about the use of mobile homes on their land.
5.26 A concern arising from the research was a lack of awareness amongst some park home owners of the protection that was available to them under existing legislation. This issue of awareness of the protection available also needs to be considered in relation to people who rent their homes in individual units, outwith licensed park home sites.
5.27 Affordable warmth and fuel poverty was highlighted as a significant issue by the research. There have been a number of projects in England and Wales to improve the energy efficiency of mobile homes and to tackle fuel poverty amongst mobile home dwellers (see Marches Energy Agency: www.mea.org.uk; Preston and Jones, 2004; BRESCU, 2000). Although people living in mobile homes in Scotland are not eligible under the Central Heating Programme, the Scottish Government is reviewing its fuel poverty programmes to ensure that they are operating fairly across Scotland and that they are focussing upon the fuel poor. As part of this work the Government is considering what can be done to alleviate fuel poverty for residents of hard to heat homes such as mobile homes.
5.28 The research identified a number of issues with regard to people who rent their homes from private landlords. One factor was the availability of adequate heating: mobile homes rented from private landlords tended to have low levels of central heating compared with the general population, or compared with people who owned their mobile homes. Another factor was a low level of awareness of the legislation available with regard to security of tenure. However, other commentators have highlighted that there may be a question mark over the security of tenure available to some people living in mobile homes, depending on whether or not their home can be defined as a dwelling (Shelter, 2005). This latter issue is perhaps more likely to affect people living in caravans not intended for residential occupation, compared with park homes located on licensed sites.
5.29 The situation with regard to people who rent their mobile homes from private landlords - especially those who live outwith licensed park home sites - requires some clarification, as there is the danger that this group may fall between two stools with regard to protection under the current legislation in Scotland. The root of this issue appears to be how this group of people are viewed in policy terms: tenants who rent mobile homes from private landlords do not appear to be covered by recent developments in the rest of the privately rented sector in Scotland. However, neither does this group of tenants particularly benefit from the recent changes in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 with regard to mobile homes.
5.30 One issue that was not explored in this research was the views and experiences of people living in mobile homes provided by employers. Other research has identified the variable standards of accommodation - including mobile homes- provided for migrants employed as seasonal workers in agriculture (de Lima et al, 2005). Currently accommodation that is provided for seasonal workers is exempt from licensing, and it is difficult for local authorities to monitor standards of accommodation for people living in mobile homes that is tied with employment.
5.31 One emerging issue is the considerable potential for confusion for residents over whether mobile homes can legitimately be occupied permanently, and how far mobile homes have to be vacated for part of the year, if they are located on sites, or parts of sites which have a license for holiday use only. This issue is important because of the potential for individual households to get caught out, either through a genuine misunderstanding on the part of residents and park owners, or more worryingly, through the potential for residents to be misled by unscrupulous park owners and/or managers. Any households that occupy a park home in this way are in a precarious position because they sit outside the protection of legislation covering both housing and also mobile homes. Households seeking to acquire a mobile home to live in for part of the year, or permanently, need to be aware of the potential pitfalls involved in the occupation of holiday pitches, to try and reduce the possibility of misunderstandings between residents, park owners and local authorities. However, households also need to be alert to the potential for actions by unscrupulous park owners. The bottom line is that is prospective residents need to ensure that they can legitimately occupy the homes they are moving into, including an understanding of any restrictions on occupation. It may well be that guidance could be published to help raise awareness of this issue, either by government bodies or agencies within the sector (for example, see the advice published by the National Caravan Council: www.nationalcaravan.co.uk/images/resources/chh_misuse_owners.pdf).
5.32 Finally, there remains a suspicion that without the necessary enforcement available to back current legislation, the small number of unscrupulous park home owners identified in this research may well feel able to evade their responsibilities with relative impunity, continuing to taint a sector that is otherwise performing a valuable role in helping to meet housing needs in Scotland.