Electric hookup is an increasingly popular element of the average family camping holiday, especially as more and more tent campers are now making the most of the extra little luxuries it affords. There continues to be much speculation as to what is fair, and, indeed, legal to be charged when utilising a pitch that incorporates an electric hookup facility.
The answer is relatively simple. In 2003, Ofgem ammended the Maximum Resale Price. This is the maximum price that anyone can charge for resupplying gas* and electricity which has already been bought from an authorised supplier. From 1 January 2003, the maximum price at which gas or electricity may be sold is the same price as that paid by the person who is reselling it (including any standing charges).
Anyone who charges more than the maximum resale price may face civil proceedings for the recovery of the amount overcharged, and may be required to pay interest on the amounts over charged.
The key thing with the MRP is that it applies in situations were the reseller is supplying gas or electricity, they have bought from an authorised supplier, to someone else for DOMESTIC purposes. That includes a landlord charging tenants for their energy usage, a boat owner paying the mooring operator, or, of course, a caravan, motorhome, camper or tent user, paying a site owner for the likes of electric hookup.
Where it does not apply is in any industrial or commercial scenario, such as a factory or retail shop. Crucially, it, also, does not apply when a site makes a flat rate charge for a pitch, where that price includes ‘all services or amenities’.
In these circumstances, the reseller will normally adopt one of two alternatives;
- Offer all pitches at a single rate, regardless of whether they use electric hookup or not, or;
- Offer the pitches at more than one rate, depending on whether the customer requires an electrical supply or not.
The interesting thing here is that, in both cases, the customer is deemed to be entering into an agreement for the letting of ‘inclusive’ accommodation. Effectively, there is no separate agreement for the resale of energy, and, hence, the MRP will not apply. This is, effectively, allowing the site owners to charge, pretty much, what they like for an electric hookup. In theory, there is nothing to stop them charging £10 as an all inclusive fee for a standard, non EHU pitch, and £30 as an all inclusive fee for a pitch with EHU. On paper, that is totally legal, as they are, both, all inclusive, even though there is clearly a £20 additional fee for electric hookup, although, of course, customers would be more likely to vote with their feet in those situations.
The law requires the reseller to take due steps to calculate costs as accurately as possible. Meters to each pitch, or prepaid meter cards will make this much easier, however, where these are not utilised, the site owner must take reasonable steps to estimate costs, and these calculations must be verifiable, should the authorities wish to question them. Likewise, standing charges must, also, be correctly calculated (as much as possible) and appropriately apportioned between users. There are no hard and fast rules for doing this, simply that the procedures must be both reasonable, and verifiable.
OK. So. what does all that mean. Well. Basically, if you are supplied with energy by the site owners, on a meter or prepaid card, then that energy can only be at the cost to the owner (including any standing** costs) or they may face prosecution. If, however, the site owner charges an all inclusive fee***, then they can charge pretty much what they like, within that, for the energy element, and there is nothing we can do about that, except book elsewhere, if we’re not happy.
Anyone seeking to look into this in a little more detail can take a look at; ‘The resale of gas and electricity guidance for resellers‘ guide, produced by Ofgem. This has been subject to subsequent revisions, in later years, but nothing that has changed the underlying principles of the original legislation.
* The maximum resale price does not apply to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) sold on site, in bottles.
** The reseller may only recharge on to customers the standing charges for the supply of gas or electricity. They are not allowed to recharge other costs, such as the cost of maintaining the electricity supply and equipment on site. If these are to be recovered, they must be done so by means of a general service charge, rather than a specific cost of the energy provided.
*** We have received confirmation, from Ofgem, that it is acceptable to show electricity separately, as long as it is a round sum amount, and is not charged on a per unit basis. So; “EHU: £4 a night” is totally acceptable and legal (even if the cost to the site owner is just £1 per night) as it is not itemising the units separately, simply charging an ‘all in’ fee. In this event, it is an issue of terms and conditions of the site. If they charge £4 a night, and you book on that basis, then you have accepted their conditions, and they are entitled to charge that.