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Helen Whately MP warns of 'unscrupulous' park home owners amid complaints at Pilgrim's Retreat, Maidstone

By Luke May

Elderly people are being left vulnerable to exploitation by "unscrupulous" park home owners, an MP has warned.

Helen Whately called a meeting of MPs at the Houses of Parliament, amid complaints from her constituents at Pilgrims Retreat, near Hollingbourne.

Residents there claim they were mis-sold plots on the site as permanent homes - something the park's owner strongly denies.

Pilgrims Retreat, near Maidstone
Pilgrims Retreat, near Maidstone

But Maidstone council has served formal notices on all occupiers of the site to establish who lives in a holiday let and who has a permanent home.

Pilgrims Retreat has around 200 units. The vast majority are holiday homes, rather than residential.

Under the 1983 Mobile Homes Act, only residential home owners have to pay council tax. Those who have bought this type of home can live it in all-year round and it can be their only residential address.

Maurice "Fred" Sines (7642799)
Maurice "Fred" Sines (7642799)

Those who live in a park under a holiday let arrangement must have another permanent address and are not allowed to stay in it the entire year. Some parks offer 12 month leisure licences, which give owners the right to use the park all-year-round, but not to stay in the park as a permanent residence.

Speaking in Westminster Hall, Mrs Whately said: "Some [residents] have spent a six figure sum on a park home they believed they could spend the rest of their days in, only to find they in fact bought a holiday home.

"I believe Pilgrim's Retreat is not a one off. In my constituency holiday homes appear to be being mis-sold as residential homes depriving the local area of tourist income and leaving those residents with few rights or protection some of whom are elderly, in poor health vulnerable to exploitation."

Helen Whately MP (7343137)
Helen Whately MP (7343137)

Where residents have holiday leases instead of owning their home outright, they are at risk of sudden price hikes or their lease being cancelled.

The Faversham and Mid Kent MP called the meeting to discuss what rights park home owners or renters have.

She said: "I'm told of a culture of fear and intimidation at Pilgrim's Retreat with people being banned from using facilities like the club room and threatened with having their property demolished and all the while they've been paying council tax to the local authority even though they're not permanent residents."

Pilgrims Retreat in Ringlestone, near Maidstone (7514375)
Pilgrims Retreat in Ringlestone, near Maidstone (7514375)

Maurice 'Fred' Sines, owner of site operators Sines Park Luxury Living Ltd, has vehemently denied all of Mrs Whately's claims, saying he felt "stitched up" by them.

He said: "I heard nothing about this until after she held the debate.

"I did bar someone from the clubhouse after they threatened me, but I've since let him back in, that's the only thing that's true."

Mr Sines has invited Mrs Whately to visit the site.

A statement from Sines Park Luxury Living Ltd said: "In the event a leisure park home is sold, the owner is made aware and given a copy of the 12 month leisure licence.

"This disputes all claims that leisure park homes are being mis-sold as residential park homes.

"Fred Sines, the owner of Sines Parks Luxury Living Ltd and Pilgrims Retreat is committed to making sure the lifestyles for both leisure park home and residential owners is the very best, happily answering any concerns, questions or queries."

Maidstone Borough Council is carrying out work to establish what licences are currently in place on site.

A council spokesman said: "It is the responsibility of the buyers, via their solicitor, to fully understand the planning status of the park homes being offered for sale. However, it is a condition of the site owner’s licence that a register be kept in the reception of the park, showing the names and permanent residential addresses of the those occupying park homes on the site.

"Maidstone Borough Council served Planning Contravention Notices (between February 4 and 7), on all the occupiers of park homes on the site, as well as the owner of the site too, and the findings are now being analysed. The purpose of this is to gain a clear understanding as to who is occupying the site and on what basis. This information will be a starting point for resolving any such disputes around the payment, or not, of council tax, as well as other planning related matters too. Only once the completed planning contravention notices have been received by MBC and the contents analysed, can the council consider what, if any, action should be taken."

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