Buyers mis-sold holiday caravans as full-time homes

Residents were falsely promised they could live in mobile homes all year round on holiday parks, BBC finds.
Buyers mis-sold holiday caravans as full-time homes
Mike Chesworth standing in the doorway of his caravan

People are being tricked into buying homes on holiday parks where they have no right to live, the BBC has found.

Buyers told BBC One’s Panorama they were cheated out of their life savings after being falsely promised they could live full-time on the sites.

An undercover reporter secretly filmed one salesperson falsely claiming year-round living was permitted on a holiday park in Lancashire.

Site owner David Welch says contracts clearly state it is a holiday park.

In the UK, there are more than 170,000 residents living permanently in mobile homes. The majority do so legally, as they are living on residential parks that have planning permission and residential licences.

However, thousands more people are thought to be living unofficially on holiday parks. It is usually a breach of planning laws for anyone to live full-time on a site that only has a holiday park licence.

‘Heartbreaking’

Delivery driver Mike Chesworth, 59, found himself trapped in this situation when he bought a home on Wyre Country Park for £180,000.

Located on the banks of the River Wyre just outside Blackpool, Lancashire, it appealed to Mr Chesworth as a pleasant place to retire with his wife.

The contract they signed in 2019 says the caravan is for holiday use only. But they say the site owner, David Welch, promised them they could stay in the park permanently.

Now they’re stuck in a home where they are not supposed to live.

The couple say they were threatened with eviction after complaining to Mr Welch. They could also be evicted by the local council for breaching planning rules and the site owner could face enforcement action.

Mr Chesworth says he is now working six days a week to save money as he believes he may have to fight Mr Welch in court.

“It’s heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, and that’s why I want to raise money, and that’s why I want to fight these people, because they’ve got to be stopped.”

Panorama spoke to five other residents at Wyre Country Park who also said they had been falsely promised they could live on the site full-time by Mr Welch and then threatened with eviction when they later complained.

BBC iPlayer

Reporter Rory Carson meets the caravan park residents who say they have been mis-sold their properties and falsely promised they could they could live in them all year round.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only) or on BBC One at 20:00 on Monday 11 March (20:30 in Wales and Northern Ireland)

BBC iPlayer

Panorama sent an undercover reporter to Wyre Country Park to pose as a buyer. They made it clear they were looking for somewhere to live full-time.

The reporter first spoke to Mr Welch on the phone and was told the park had a “residential” area, where she could live all year round.

The reporter was later taken round the park by the sales manager, who said most of the residents lived on site full-time. “They’ve chosen probably, for this to be, potentially, their last home,” she said.

Even when the reporter raised the issue of the holiday licence, the sales manager still insisted people could live on the site 12 months a year.

Consumer lawyer Dean Dunham, who viewed the footage, says buyers are being misled like this in parks around the UK.

“I think this is a really big issue because there are so many people who have fallen down this trap. I’m not saying I’ve heard from one or two people who have lost their life savings. I’ve heard from countless people who have lost their life savings.”

Site owner David Welch denies misleading buyers, and says the site’s signs and sales agreements clearly state that it is a holiday park.

“We have not received any formal complaints about how the park is managed. We totally reject any allegations of intimidation or threats to ‘evict’ holidaymakers,” he said.

The sales manager did not respond.

Alfie Best, Wyldecrest owner, standing next to a caravan

Panorama has discovered that people can also be misled when buying mobile homes on residential parks.

Even when a park has a full residential licence – meaning people can live there all year round – the site owner may not have planning permission for all of the homes.

Alfie Best owns 90 residential parks through his company Wyldecrest Parks and he is the star of a TV documentary called Gypsy Billionaire.

He was ranked number 232 in last year’s Sunday Times Rich List, which valued his wealth at £745m.

In 2015, one of his companies sold a mobile home without planning permission at Bayworth Park in Oxfordshire.

The local council started enforcement action over the planning breach in 2016.

Louise

When the owners found out their home did not have the necessary permission, they took legal action and Alfie Best’s company eventually bought it back in January 2020.

But that was not the end of it.

Louise Hopkins was looking for a new start and thought that Bayworth Park would be the perfect spot.

When she was shown the same mobile home on the same plot, Alfie Best’s company did not say anything about the planning dispute.

She paid £165,000 in October 2020 and then discovered her home did not have planning permission.

“I was knowingly sold a home that did not have planning permission. I think it’s fraud. I absolutely think it’s fraud.”

The following year Wyldecrest was fined £75,000 for breaching planning rules. The judges said the company’s conduct had been dishonest and deceitful.

But Ms Hopkins could still lose her home as, without planning permission, she has got no right to live on the site.

“It sounds like madness now that I didn’t engage a lawyer,” she says. “I feel quite foolish, I feel quite angry. A very rich and influential man has treated me appallingly.”

Alfie Best says what happened to Louise was not his fault, because Wyldecrest had sold the same home to another resident before it was sold on to her and site owners are not allowed to interfere in sales by residents.

“We did not sell Mrs Hopkins a home. She purchased the home from the previous owner of that home, not us.”

Mr Best says he has offered to buy back the home from her. But a price has not been agreed with Louise.

The British Holiday and Home Parks Association, which represents site owners, says it is important that customers understand exactly what they can expect for their money.

It said: “Many thousands of people buy a holiday caravan or residential park home each year – the vast majority of whom have a positive experience, and go on to enjoy all the holiday and lifestyle benefits that come with ownership.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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