Caravan park proprietors have challenged claims that advice from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) allows caravan owners to claim a refund.
Tens of thousands of people own static caravans on permanent sites around the UK. Because of the lockdown limitations, they have not been able to access the parks, or their caravans, for the past six weeks. There is currently no certainty about when they will be able to stay.
The CMA has issued guidance covering cases where consumers receive regular services in exchange for regular payments as part of an ongoing contract – but they are unable to avail of the services because of lockdown rules.
It said: “Consumer protection law will normally require the consumer to be offered a refund for any services they have already paid for but that are not provided by the business or which the consumer is not allowed to use because of government public health measures.”
The guidance added that current laws allow the consumer to withhold payment for services that were inaccessible because of government public health measures. A business could “require payment of a small contribution to its costs until the provision of the service is resumed”.
One interpretation of the guidance was that it granted caravan owners the right to withhold regular payments or claim a refund for the time the site is inaccessible.
But Ros Pritchard, director-general of British Holiday & Home Parks Association (BH&HPA) said caravan owners were not entitled either to a refund or to withhold payments.
She said: “We recognise that many customers feel disappointed that they cannot use their caravans at the moment and that a minority have asked that parks should compensate them for this.
“The understandable disappointment felt by all customers has been caused by the current crisis and the government’s legal response to it to protect the health of all concerned.
“The holiday caravan agreement is not an agreement to rent the holiday caravan to them. Rather, it is a licence for the provision of the pitch to site that caravan – which the consumer owns – and for the maintenance of the park and its utilities infrastructure to supply the caravan.
“These services continue to be provided for the consumer’s caravan despite the lockdown. The consumer is using them because they are keeping their caravan on the pitch and benefittng from the essential maintenance services which the park is required to provide.
“This means the consumer can look forward to returning to their caravan, which has been cared for in their absence and remains connected to a functioning park utility system – just as they do each spring when they return to the park after the winter closure.”
A spokesperson for the CMA said: “Our guidance on cancellation rights includes grounds for when we would expect a full or partial refund to be issued. It covers a range of consumer contracts and different situations, but individual cases may vary depending on contract type.
“Contracts related to caravans might cover a number of different arrangements. To work out if a refund is due, each individual needs to look carefully at the service they are paying for and consider whether that service is still being provided during lockdown.”
Sandycove, a family-run business with five parks in Northern Ireland, tweeted: “Caravan owners don’t just pay pitch fees for the time they spend in or at their caravan. Our holiday parks are closed mid-November to mid-March. Owners’ caravans remain sited on the park all year, secure, monitored and connected to services.”
The National Association Of Caravan Owners told members: “A month without the use of your holiday home at this time of year will have a significant impact to caravan and lodge owners and their families.”
It has suggested that caravan parks might offer “payment holidays” or freeze the level of pitch fees.
The BH&HPA has advised its members to ask customers to continue making payments and to “communicate openly with their customers to retain their goodwill in these unprecedented and difficult times”.