Holiday park residents lose £20,000 selling lodges after clampdown
- Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN/CLARE FLITTON
Customers who bought lodges from a holiday park, wrongly thinking they could live on site all year round, have been forced to resell at a loss of £20,000.
Jolanta Giedrikiene, a 46-year-old nurse, paid £55,000 plus commission for her lodge at Stonham Barns in July 2018, when she was seeking affordable accommodation after her divorce.
Although she management informed her the park only a licence allowing residents to live there for 11 months of the year, she claims other staff told her there was no problem living on site all year round.
Soon after she moved in, however, authorities were alerted to reports that many of the park's residents were living on the site year round unlawfully.
Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC) became embroiled in a planning dispute with the park over guests staying for 12 months.
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Residents were told to leave the site throughout January - and also asked to prove they had a permanent residence elsewhere.
Ms Giedrikiene said she had no option other than to sell her lodge back to the park - but was only offered £35,000.
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'I was looking for a peaceful life - but instead I lost £20,000,' she said.
'I'm sure I wont be able to get it back but maybe I can help some of the people still living there. They need to speak out before it's too late.'
Another former resident, who asked not to be named, said she bought her lodge new for £80,000 in 2016. After living on-site for three years, she suddenly found herself in breach of regulations was told to leave in January 2019, following the crackdown by authorities.
She spent hundreds of pounds on hotel bills during January, before returning in February.
But with MSDC now requiring residents to demonstrate a permanent address, the resident, a young mother, felt she had no option but to sell up.
She said Stonham Barns offered her £35,000 less than she had paid four years earlier.
'I thought it was a terrible offer,' she said, 'But I couldn't see any other way. January was looming again, and we could have ended up in emergency accommodation.'
Stonham Barns is currently advertising the same model of lodge as the mother lived in for £59,995 on its website.
Although the park has insisted that guests were always told they could not live on site, former staff have said they felt uncomfortable about how sales were handled.
Clare Flitton, 45, who worked as an assistant in the sales team from July-November 2018, said customers were told no one had been made to leave the site.
'I started asking questions about the legality of when people had to be off site,' she said. 'The more questions I asked, the less they liked it.'
'I just feel so sorry for the people still living there, who could lose all their savings,' she added.
'They all need to get together and raise this officially - they should have done it a long time ago.'
Chris Golding, 67, was set to move into a £160,000 lodge with his partner in March 2019, when he was warned by Miss Flitton about the problems on site.
Mr Golding said he had been told by management the park only had an 11-month licence and he needed to have proof of another address, but he claimed he was also assured most people lived on site all year without problem.
After hearing from Miss Flitton about the problems with MSDC, he said he backed out of purchase.
'If it wasn't for Clare I could have lost everything,' he said.
MSDC has been working with the park to identify people who have no other home, with the view to providing support.
It sent 'planning contravention notices' to 14 households last week.
The letters were described as part of a 'fact finding' exercise by the council to determine residents' residential status.
Peter Emberson, chairman of Stonham Aspal Parish Council, said at the time he felt far more of the occupants were living on site permanently.
'I continue to urge people to come forward and speak to the council authorities so they can clarify and understand their own situations,' he said.
Suffolk Trading Standards confirmed it had been made aware of residents' concerns and had advised them on their rights.
Stonham Barns did not respond to a request for comment - but previously said it would work with MSDC to resolve breaches.
-People with concerns can call Citizens Advice Consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.