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For anyone who owns a caravan, motorhome or static caravan on a leisure park, the vital restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 crisis may have caused concerns, and possibly even a degree of confusion.
The central message of the response to the coronavirus pandemic is crystal clear. Stay at home! However, does that mean you can still use a static or touring caravan to live in?
For some caravan owners, enforced limits to travel make it an ideal opportunity to carry out repairs and other maintenance tasks. However, what are the boundaries and obstacles for these tasks?
Then, of course, there are issues of contamination and social distancing. How will these impact on the use of your caravan in the coming weeks, and beyond?
This guide to COVID-19 is designed to help answer many of the frequently asked questions about caravan ownership, maintenance and use.
Though much of this guide refers to the UK regulations, please be aware that Continental countries are operating within similar travel restrictions and rules.
Can I use my caravan during COVID-19 restrictions?
There are only four reasons you can leave home while the ‘lockdown’ is in effect. For essential work, for essential food shopping, to care for a vulnerable friend or relative, or for exercise. There is also a caveat on the last instruction. When you go out for exercise, you should be on foot and confined to the immediate area around your home.
That makes it a violation to drive somewhere to take exercise, and certainly forbids you to take a touring caravan or motorhome out. They must be left stored in their usual place during the pandemic regulatory period.
Keep in mind too, that all official sites for camping and caravanning have temporarily closed during the COVID-19 crisis.
Any unofficial sites still operating are in direct contravention of the Government’s ‘shut down’ list. (See later section on the potential lifting of restrictions.)
Incidentally, there have been cases of NHS staff using caravans and motorhomes as temporary accommodation. This is due to self-isolating from their family or being closer to work during this demanding time. No one could possibly object to this practice and the police would certainly not intervene.
Visiting a leisure park home
This is a topic which has proved particularly thorny, as there have been high profile incidents of people visiting second homes of various kinds. The Government has made it clear that you must stay in your primary residence during the COVID-19 restrictions.
You are violating the rules if you travel to a leisure park home, or move into your motorhome on a separate site from your main residence. This activity is punishable by fines under the emergency legislation introduced – just like unauthorised travel is (mentioned above).
What if I live in my caravan or motorhome?
The exception to the above is if your static caravan or motorhome is your primary residence. In that case, you have been asked to ‘Stay at home’ just as you would in any other form of property.
If you use a motorhome as your year-round residence, then it is important to find a temporary site to stay in, for the duration of the travel regulations and control measures.
Supply of essential services to park home sites and residential caravan venues should be unaffected by the pandemic. Should you experience an interruption in power, contact Ofgem’s on freephone 105 or visit powercut105.com.
If you are self-isolating due to Coronavirus symptoms, please always inform anybody delivering goods or services to your static caravan or motorhome.
When a leisure park asks you to leave
If you have a license agreement with the site operator than enables you to live there, they must continue to meet any obligations including maintenance and security provision. Equally, you must still fulfil any commitments you made, including any payment terms.
Leisure Parks in the UK are legally obliged to shut for a short period over the winter (whereas residential parks stay open year-round). However, some people live in static caravans and go abroad or stay with others during the weeks of closure.
If your leisure park is now shut, due to the Government mandate on ‘non-essential businesses’, the operator should allow you to remain if this is your main residence and therefore moving out will make you ‘homeless’.
However, they can require you to leave if you have an alternative home or you arrive at the premises.
If there is a dispute, it is recommended that you write to your site operator and quote the official Government wording: “If a holiday park or caravan park is your primary residence you can remain on-site”.
Insurance, COVID-19 and caravans
Your normal caravan insurance policy will continue to manage your covered risks during the pandemic restrictions. However, that is not the case if you don’t comply with the official mandates.
For example, if you move your touring caravan or motorhome during the coming days, your insurance may be void, as this type of unnecessary travel is forbidden under the emergency laws enacted.
If you booked a caravan site, what can you do?
Many caravan and motorhome owners will have booked sites across the UK and even in Europe, especially during the Easter school holidays.
This is not an excuse to become non-compliant and ignore the pandemic regulations!
It is important to contact the site operators and discuss alternative arrangements. In order to protect their businesses, some may ask you to move your booking to a later date. Official sites under the UK Camping and Caravanning Club are automatically offering new dates or a full refund.
Some independent operators may refuse to return any deposits or payments, under their Terms and Conditions. While others may be willing to offer refunds, or they could only offer the option of moving your booking to a future date. This is within their legal rights due to the special nature of this shutdown.
As there is no current cut off date for the lockdown, some operators may be only be dealing with bookings for the next few weeks. Should the restrictions continue through May and June, they will begin to extend their processes to those dates.
Keep in mind that if this crisis means you want to cancel a site booking later this year, you will be subject to the normal terms and conditions, including any financial penalties involved.
Maintenance tasks for caravans
If you store your caravan within the confines of your property, this is an ideal time to carry out some basic maintenance activities, including special tasks resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Remember, that travelling to visit a caravan stored at a separate location is not essential, and is therefore forbidden under the current restrictions. If you have easy access, a deep clean would be wise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other advisory organisations have said that the virus can live on hard surfaces for some time.
Therefore, thorough cleaning of a caravan you have used recently would be a sensible precaution. Pay special attention to any parts of the structure that come into contact with your hands – including window openers, handles, switches, seatbelt buckles, gear stick and of course all kitchen equipment.
While you may use a high-pressure washer on your car or indeed motorhome, it isn’t a good idea to try it on your caravan. Although a pressure washer does make a fast job of cleaning, it may damage the sensitive window seals on a caravan. The longer you use one, the more likely you could find yourself with a leak or two!
Some people will use a pressure washer only on the wheels, or from a greater distance so as to lessen the force of the water, but it is often safer to simply use a hose or bucket of water and clean manually.
Motorhome servicing and MOTs
Most people will not need to use their motorhome for the foreseeable future. However, do you need yours for essential travel or is it your permanent home?
To keep their own staff – and customers – safe and to prevent the virus from spreading, many garages are open only for essential repairs. While others are offering standard services for vehicles used for essential activities such as key worker travel. It is even possible to find garages offering ‘contact-free’ collection of vehicles, to maintain strict social distancing measures.
MOT Centres, however, are all closed.
The Government advice on MOTs is detailed using this link here
In a nutshell, cars, vans and motorcycles have had their MOT deadline extended by 6 months if the original due date was on or after the 30th March 2020.
However, a strong emphasis has been placed on your responsibility to make sure the vehicle is roadworthy and safe to use!
Which means motorhome users who use their vehicle for essential travel must carry out standard checks on such issues as:
• Operation of lights, windscreen wipers and mirrors
• Fully functioning brakes
• Tyre quality (the tread must be at least 1.6mm)
It is also wise to regularly check:
• Tyre pressure
• Oil levels
• Water/coolant levels
• Washer bottles
• Motorhome grille integrity
• Battery function
Motorhomes and Road Tax
Road tax arrangements for all forms of vehicles have been digitalised. These will continue unchanged.
You will still receive an automated reminder that your motorhome road tax is due (a V11) as well as a warning notice from the DVLA if your payment is not prompt. It will include instructions on how to go online and pay your tax using your debit or credit card, or Direct Debits from your bank.
You can use your existing MOT certificate to validate your road tax – see the above section on the MOT extension provision.
What about a flat battery from not using a motorhome
Driving your vehicle even for short distances to maintain battery life is not essential travel and therefore not permitted. Depending on the status of your battery – particularly its age – there is a good chance it will still function after a period of inactivity. In some cases, you may need to take steps to restore battery power when restrictions are lifted.
Paying off finance on caravans and motorhomes
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a severe interruption to both employed and self-employed incomes. Sadly, some people are temporary or permanently redundant and newly reliant on benefits.
This can leave you struggling to meet your basic financial commitments and the terms of any finance contracts on motorhomes or caravans.
It is important to speak to the provider of your finance agreement, to discuss a potential action plan. You must not simply stop your Direct Debit or another payment schedule, as this can affect your legal position and credit status.
If you still need advice on how to manage this issue, The Money Advice Service can help you.
Lifting of restrictions on motorhome or caravan use
There is currently no clear timetable to end the travel restrictions and other legal constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commonly held view is that the ‘exit strategy’ will involve a series of carefully measured steps, that maintain social distancing and contamination control for some months.
Therefore, the reopening of caravan and camping sites may come later than some other steps, and there may also be new recommendations for owners to adhere to.