Martin Lewis warns caravan park firms about refunding customers

MARTIN Lewis has warned caravan park owners to offer partial refunds or reductions in future fees to customers who can't currently stay in their holiday homes.

Under the government's lockdown rules hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses are closed for leisure use.

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Legally, they can't reopen until they get the green light from the government – and it's said it doesn't expect this to be until July 4 at the earliest.

But in the meantime, founder, Martin Lewis, says he's been inundated with complaints from caravan owners who've paid hefty annual fees for sites they can't currently use.

Fees paid by customers can range from £1,500 to £5,000 a year, according to trade body the British Holiday and Home Parks Association, which represents 1,900 site owners across around 3,000 different parks.

Can I get my money back?

Whether you can get a full or partial refund appears to be an issue of contention and it's likely it will ultimately depend on your individual contract with the caravan site owner.

The British Holiday and Home Parks Association says it's taken legal advice and believes refunds aren't due. That's because it says the service you've paid for – which is for the plot of land to put your caravan on – is still being upheld.

But in contrast, one lawyer Mr Lewis spoke to reckons full refunds may be due.

Gary Rycroft, a solicitor and partner at Joseph A. Jones & Co says where neither party has broken the contract but the service being paid for can't be met, both parties can return to the position they were previously in before signing any contract.

He added: “The strong legal position of the caravan owners should be sufficient for the site owner to cut a sensible deal; the risk to the site owners if they don’t is, they could be forced to give a full refund for the period during which the site may not be accessed.” 

When The Sun put this to watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) it told us it couldn't comment on individual contracts, but confirms that its interpretation of the law is for firms to offer full or partial refunds where services haven't been provided.

But it points out that whether or not a service has been provided will ultimately depend on what's considered to be a service, and what you've agreed to pay for under your contract.

Mr Lewis says he's compiling evidence of possible breaches to pass on to the CMA.

In the meantime, Mr Lewis has the following advice.

Talk to park owners

In the first instance, Mr Lewis recommends talking to park owners to try to reach an agreement.

He says asking for a breakdown of how your fees are spent may help to reach a figure on what to be refunded for.

The British Holiday and Home Parks Association recommends its members provide partial goodwill refunds where possible.

But it says firms don't legally have to offer this, and adds that while some of the bigger companies can shell out the majority of small one-man-band owners will struggle.

It says to bear in mind companies still have ongoing staff costs too, and will likely still have loans on the land to repay.

Mr Lewis adds that you could consider a reduction in future fees instead of a refund.

He said: "Even though you may have a right to a partial refund, if the firm is struggling and does its best to provide a reasonable alternative, for example, reducing next year's fee, do take time to consider it.

"It may be that meeting it in the middle is what keeps it financially above ground and protects jobs." 

Make a claim to your card provider

Martin says you could try to make a Section 75 claim if you paid between £100 and £30,000 on credit card, or a Chargeback claim for credit card payments of less than £100 or debit card payments.

These rules stipulate that card providers are jointly liable if customers don't get the goods or services they paid for.

But while Section 75 is written into the law, Chargeback isn't which means you're not guaranteed your money back.

Mr Lewis also points out that partial refunds are somewhat of a grey area. He said: "Normally at this point in a refund guide, we would suggest using Chargeback or Section 75 via your debit or credit card to get your money back.

"This is far more difficult here because we’re only talking about partial refunds, and apportioning the split is difficult."

Take your complaint to court

Mr Lewis says the final step to consider is taking your complaint to court.

If you're considering taking court action, he says to let the firm know by means of an official complaint beforehand as this could push it into taking action.

But Mr Lewis says going to court is a big step to take, which you should consider carefully – particularly as you may have to pay court and legal fees if you lose.

It's not just caravan parks making it difficult to obtain refunds; some airlines and travel operators have also been making it hard for customers to get their money back.

Some have been offering travel vouchers instead of cash refunds, while others have refused to refund deposits for cancelled trips.

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