Aldous urges rethink on VAT on static holiday caravans

Speaking in a Debate on the Finance Bill in the House of Commons yesterday, Waveney MP Peter Aldous urged Government to rethink the application of VAT to the sale of static holiday caravans. Aldous voted against the Government proposals believing the new measures would harm local business interests.

Peter had earlier joined a delegation of MPs to visit Taxation Minister, David Gauke MP at the Treasury.


Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I am grateful to be called to speak. I shall restrict my comments to new clause 6 and the proposed application of VAT to the sale of static holiday caravans from 1 October. My interest is a constituency one, as I fear that the impact of the measure will be far greater than HMRC has estimated.

I have received representations and expressions of interest from a variety of parties. These include Hoseasons, one of the largest holiday providers in the UK, which is based in Lowestoft in my constituency; and five park operators, including the chairman of my own constituency Conservative association, who has herself written to the Treasury and a number of other Members. Small and medium-sized enterprises, including painters and decorators, and a bank are also concerned about the impact of the proposal on business viability.

Let me make three observations. First, I fear that HMRC’s assessment of the impact of the change takes full account of neither the whole supply chain serving the industry, nor the fact that the industry is concentrated in specific geographical areas that will be hit very hard. Some of those areas are pockets of deprivation and unemployment, and many are coastal communities such as my constituency, where tourism is a vital component of the local economy.

The supply chain includes manufacturers who are located almost exclusively in the UK—mainly in the Humberside area—wholesalers, and park operators. In recent years, the sale of static caravans has become a vital part of park operators’ businesses. Without such sales the future of some businesses will be at best uncertain, while others will cut both staff and the reinvestment in facilities that is so important if they are to continue to attract customers and ensure their own financial viability. Trading conditions have been very difficult for those operators in recent years, and the introduction of the new tax on 1 October, following so soon after the imposition of VAT on pitch fees, rates, and water and sewerage bills on 1 January, would contribute to a double whammy.

I am especially concerned about the fact that HMRC’s assessment takes no account of the numerous SMEs that work in the parks. There are builders, decorators, plumbers, electricians, people who fit carpets and curtains, and people who service plant and equipment. We should also bear in mind that many of those who work in the parks—admittedly on a seasonal basis—are young people gaining their first experience of work. An unintended consequence of the measure could, in some cases, be the removal of that vital first rung on the employment ladder.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): In my part of north Wales, the projected 30% drop in sales shown by the Government’s own figures will have an impact on new purchases. Those who come to north Wales do not just buy static holiday homes; they buy cars and go to restaurants, pubs and shops, and their income and expenditure help to boost our economy. That will hit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well.

Peter Aldous: I shall come to that issue in a moment.

My second point is that HMRC’s analysis fails to take account of the vital role played by static caravan owners in a local economy such as that in Waveney. They are, in many respects, the “anchor tenant” for the whole tourism industry. They come to stay in the area for most weekends, and they do not limit their visits to the summer season. They spend money in local shops, restaurants and pubs, visit the many day attractions in my area such as Pleasurewood Hills and Africa Alive, or spend a day on the beach or boating on the Broads. A reduction in their numbers would have a significant knock-on effect on the many businesses in the area.

Finally, I believe that the rationale for the introduction of the tax is flawed. It is claimed that it addresses an anomaly, as touring caravans are subject to VAT while static caravans are not. However, the industry has come a long way since 1973, when the VAT exemption was first made, and I believe that today’s static caravan has more in common with a holiday home than with a mobile caravan. Static caravans are more like second homes in terms of their facilities and the nature of the accommodation, the investment that their owners have made in them, and the way in which they are used—not just for once-a year holidays, but for regular visits throughout the year.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Another consequence of the tax is that those who currently buy caravans to use as second homes would actually buy second homes. That would raise the price of affordable homes, especially in rural areas such as the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Peter Aldous: I am not sure that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The problem with many second homes is that they are very expensive. What worries me that, certainly in my area, people would go abroad for holidays. They might even buy a villa in Spain, which really would be cheap, and the whole tourism industry would be affected.

In many respects, the current tax treatment of second homes and statics is, by chance, similar. The former pay stamp duty, while the later pay VAT on movable items only. To change that balance would unfairly penalise this group of people. Many of them cannot afford a second home, yet they are similar to second-home owners in so many ways. Such a move would be regressive in taxation terms.

In summary, I believe that the impact of this proposal will be far greater than HMRC’s assessment implies. It will have a significant negative effect on the economy and on jobs in specific locations around the country, including my constituency. Further, I question whether the anomaly it is intended to address actually exists. I therefore urge the Government to think again, and to allow a vital industry to continue to play a key role in securing the economic recovery.

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Lowestoft, Wednesday 8th August



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