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Caravan park owners urged to trade fairly – 31/03/2010

As Northern Ireland’s caravan holiday parks have opened for another season, the Trading Standards Service (TSS) is urging caravan park owners to act fairly or face legal action.

As Northern Ireland’s caravan holiday parks have opened for another season, the Trading Standards Service (TSS) is urging caravan park owners to act fairly or face legal action.

Approximately 13,000 static holiday caravans are pitched in sites across Northern Ireland. Although owning a static caravan is a popular way to unwind and relax, some caravan owners are claiming that they are being subjected to unfair terms by park owners.

Complaints received by TSS indicate that there appears to be a widespread absence of written contracts, leaving caravan owners largely unaware of their rights and obligations. Caravan owners should always be made aware of all the relevant terms and conditions of their agreement, prior to purchasing a static caravan. This creates a legally binding contract that should outline the expectations and responsibilities of both parties.

In some cases, consumers are reporting that management are making rules up as they go along and making significant changes to caravan owners’ rights, without consulting them. This can include moving caravans from their pitch without a valid reason and tying caravan owners in to purchasing goods or services supplied by park owners, such as insurance, storage boxes or LPG.

Consumers can also find themselves facing excessive, unexpected and unexplained increases in annual pitch fees.

It would appear that some site owners are reluctant to engage with caravan owners on issues relating to the management/operation of the park. Also, caravan owners are reluctant to complain about the behaviour of park owners, for fear of being evicted from the site.

There have also been claims that park owners are preventing caravan owners from selling their caravans to third parties. By preventing private sales, park owners can purchase the caravans themselves at very low prices and then offer them for sale at a much higher price.

The park owners can attempt to conceal this unfair practice by subsequently failing to display the selling price of the caravan. TSS recently prosecuted a park owner who failed to display prices of second-hand caravans being offered for sale.

In other instances, management are insisting that caravan owners upgrade their caravans after ten years, regardless of their condition. Terms like this are likely to be deemed unfair in law and therefore be unenforceable by the park owner.

Caravan owners, and those considering buying caravans on parks, are also advised to think very carefully before entering into any arrangement that allows them to stay on the park for only one season at a time.

Damien Doherty of the Trading Standards Service said: “Owning a static caravan is a major investment for the consumer and for some, it is buying the holiday home of their dreams. TSS want to make sure those dreams don’t turn into nightmares.

“The majority of people thoroughly enjoy their caravan holidays and are treated fairly and with respect by park owners. However, we are continuing to receive complaints, some of which report very poor standards of behaviour on the part of a small minority of park owners. We would strongly encourage the industry as a whole to adopt contracts which are clear, fair and provide a high degree of transparency.

“Park owners can have little excuse for treating consumers unfairly as they should all be familiar with the Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) comprehensive guidance on unfair terms to help make caravan contracts clearer and fairer.

Damien concluded: “TSS will continue to work with the caravan industry and individual park owners to ensure that professional standards are maintained. We would encourage any park owners who are unsure about contract terms they are using or proposing to use to contact us for free advice and guidance. However, we would also warn that we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action against park owners who are found to be engaging in aggressive or unfair trading practices.”

Anyone who feels that they have been treated unfairly by a caravan park owner can contact Domain Scams on 0845 600 62 62/028 9025 3900 or log on to Domain Scams is the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s consumer advice helpline.

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