The cost of gas and electricity on caravan sites can be a controversial subject. Find out why.
Caravan site energy prices can be controversial as they might be more expensive than the rates you get for your home.
It’s probably not one of the first things you think about when buying your dream caravan either, so you might be a little surprised when you’re faced with that first energy bill. Knowing how campsites charge for energy will help you avoid any further nasty surprises.
Regulator Ofgem has put legislation in place to prevent people from being overcharged on their energy bills on a campsite or holiday park. The legislation outlines a maximum resale price - this is the maximum anyone can charge for resupplying electricity that’s been purchased from an authorised supplier. Since 2003 the maximum price has been the price the reseller (in this case, the campsite owner) paid for it in the first place.
Things are different for camping gas bottles. There aren’t any price restrictions, but site owners should be transparent in how they set costs.
The energy your caravan gets could be metered. If this is the case, you might be charged for more energy than you’re using. Even if you’re on a meter, you may only get an annual bill instead of one every three months.
There’s also little scope for switching providers, meaning you may not be getting the best deal. Electricity is routed through the park’s own supplier, while the alternative gas cylinder market is small.
Most of the UK’s large parks cater for static and touring caravans. Tourers can be anything from a two-person pull-along caravan, to a six-berth motorhome.
Tourers usually pay a nightly fee to use the electrical hook-up on a pitch. These provide a 230V supply, which is enough to power most everyday appliances you’d use at home. But sites usually restrict supplies and overloading the system can cause it to trip.
"People would be more aware of their electricity use if we had metered pitches," said Ian Hewlett of the Camping and Caravanning Club.
"The caravans and motorhomes are getting more efficient, but the psychology is that if people have paid their extra £5-a-night for the hook-up, then they tend to max-out on their consumption. It's human nature, I suppose. People try to get their money's worth.
"Although the manufacturers are making the caravan more efficient, the psychology of the end user isn't the same."
Static caravans are usually metered on bigger sites. That means caravan owners only pay for the energy they use.
Scott Armstrong, Bourne Leisure's head of energy and sustainability, says that if owners of large caravan sites buy electricity on the forward market at a commercial tariff, they can actually offer cheaper prices for caravan owners than they pay at their main homes.
Armstrong admitted that it’s impossible for caravan owners to compare energy prices and switch as they may do at home.
"Because [site owners] buy for the park and own all the infrastructure, including all the cables, an individual caravan owner is not able to go out and negotiate their own electricity supply," he said.
"It's not like at home where the distribution company owns all the wires in the ground and lays the cable up to your front door. If you're an owner, buying a caravan on one of our parks, then you have no selection of a supplier for electricity."
Gas and electric costs vary depending on the site, pitch location and size of the static caravan.
As we mentioned, there’s no law on the maximum resale price of gas. But site owners need to be clear about their costs.
Chances are you’ll be able to bring your own canister on site. There's no physical infrastructure restricting choice of supply, though Ian Hewlett notes that one brand seems to dominate the market, so choice may be limited.
As for comparing gas prices to electricity on site, he says: "If you used a typical gas cylinder of 6kg to try and keep warm in winter and heat your water – around £20 a refill – then you'd consume one of those every two to three days.
"So, a £3 levy on a pitch for electricity starts to look cheap, relative to that gas consumption."