Read in the Mirror Online: https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/caravan-holiday-been-cancelled-cant-22143758
There are two subjects that British people are passionate about when it comes to complaints. Pets and caravans. So when reports came out recently that hundreds of people were struggling getting refunds from caravan parks, it was clear that lots of people were going to be seeking help. Here’s an overview of your rights with the legal view from top solicitor, Gary Rycroft.
What’s the problem with caravan parks?
Caravanning is a big deal to us Brits. It’s conservatively estimated that there are 555,000 touring caravans. 365,000 caravan holiday homes and 2500 static caravan parks in the UK alone.
The stereotype of people wobbling down the motorway with a portable caravan is rather old fashioned. Motorhomes and caravanning are big business and hugely popular. So it stands to reason that hundreds of thousands of people were planning on staying at a caravan site in 2020.
Because of travel restrictions and other lockdown issues, people with caravans in parks or lock ups can’t get to the vehicles – but they’re being asked to pay the full annual ‘rent’ or being declined any kind of refund. These costs can be considerable. £4000 to £5000 seems to be average.
The majority of complaints involve people who have contacted the park owners for refunds but been told flat out that the contract doesn’t cover this. While some parks are small businesses, there’s a lot of big businesses in this area too. Most caravan owners are pragmatic. They accept that they will have to pay for some things, like security, maintenance of facilities, for example. But given they can’t even go to the caravan; they feel that they should be entitled to some degree of refund. But most are being told no.
Gary and I have tackled the top questions we’re getting from frustrated caravaners.
I can’t visit my caravan, which is pitched on a site where I pay fees in advance – but the site owners won’t let me have a refund. What is the legal position?
Like loads of other issues that have arisen since the lockdown, there is definitive legal position in this sector. But in general terms, if the caravan site is unable to provide you with the service which you have paid for then there should be some legal redress.
Most caravan sites use a standard agreement promoted by the British Holidays and Home Parks Association (BH&HPA) which represents owners and managers of over 2000 holiday and touring parks who between them provide over 340,000 pitches for holidaymakers. The BH&HPA Agreement says that the purpose of the agreement is to allow caravan owners to pitch their caravans on the site in order to enjoy a holiday (as opposed to living on site).
Because of this, there is a strong argument to say that the contract has been “frustrated”. This is known (rather dramatically) as ‘the Doctrine of Frustration of Contract’. So in other words, caravan owners should be refunded by the caravan site owners for the period of time which the caravan pitch may not be used for.
But what if the caravan site owners say that they are still providing services such as cutting the grass and carrying out work to the caravan site in general?
A bit like the horrors of a service charge if you live in a block of flats, caravan site owners can decide on the costs they run up and pass on to their customers in the annual fees. But let’s be honest – site owners will have less to do at the moment in terms of servicing the pitches.
This may be an opportunity for site owners to carry out improvement works, but this isn’t necessarily relevant nor should these additional costs be billed to the individual caravan owners. In short, there are some services you are paying for (security, basic maintenance) that the firm could deduct from your annual bill, but they can’t whack everything on. Ask for a breakdown of costs if you’re being offered a partial refund.
Has the Government said anything that would be helpful to caravan owners who are seeking a refund?
There is nothing specific in the Government’s published guidance about Covid 19 but the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) made a statement about situations where businesses are unable to deliver services because of Covid 19 restrictions.
They said: for most consumer contracts, [we] would expect a consumer to be offered a full refund where … a consumer cancels or is prevented from receiving any services because Government public health measures mean that they are not allowed to use the services.
We wouldn’t recommend going in waving the CMA advice and demanding a refund, however. The firm could still say no and it may take a long time before any action is taken against them. But you can use the guidance to support your claim for a partial refund.
Take a bit of time to jot down your thoughts – bullet points always work! Then ask for a refund but acknowledge that some costs for the services the site owners are providing could/should be deducted.
I tried this and the firm said no. What can I do?
I’m afraid that your options are limited. You could take legal action, though as always think about this and the costs carefully first. On the Law Society website, there is a “Find a Solicitor” tool where you may find solicitors who specialise in commercial litigation: https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/
You may also be able to locate a solicitor through any home insurance policy you have which offers “Legal Expenses Cover” so that the initial cost of taking legal advice may be covered under that policy.
You can report the firm to the CMA on their website here: https://www.coronavirus-business-complaint.service.gov.uk/