Doug Davis, 73, and partner Pam Donovan, 77, were part of a group of residents forced to leave their homes at Porthkerry leisure park near Barry and had lived at the site for 21 years.
The matter began when the Welsh government asked caravan owners to return to their permanent addresses during the first coronavirus lockdown of 2020, only to discover that, according to former park owner Phil Edwards, around 40 people had been living there for ten months of the year after selling their homes – despite the caravans only being permitted for second-home use.
Doug and Pam claim they paid £120 a month in council tax each year to the Vale of Glamorgan Council, which showed they were living on the park permanently and were never told what they were doing was wrong.
The Vale council would not comment on the situation.
Doug told WalesOnline: “In 2003 Pam and I split from our partners and I moved in with Pam.
We thought that as we were living on the site we should pay council tax, and we contacted the council to start paying.
“From then on we did pay annually right up until 2018 when Phil stopped the post coming to the site.”
However, the couple left the holiday park in June 2022, along with other residents, after coming to an out-of-court settlement with ex-park owner Mr Edwards reported to have cost tens of thousands of pounds.
In the UK, you cannot live on a holiday site without having a primary residence somewhere else, but, as the caravan should be for recreation and holiday use only, it does not require payment of council tax.
Now realising they should not have been making the payments, the couple said it was communication from the council that first alerted them to the issue, with Doug saying: “We had a letter from the environmental health officer in July stating that it only came to the council’s attention during Covid.
“I can’t get my head around how it would only at that point have come to their attention.” The pair said they were given letters to tell them they had to be off the park during the months of January and February when it was closed to van owners, and, during those months, would tour Britain in a motorhome they owned.
In August 2020, Mr Edwards gave them notice that they would have to leave the park if they could not provide proof of a permanent address elsewhere.
However, he said he felt he had been fair in offering the couple over the odds for their caravan, paying them £25,000 when it was purchased in 2018 for £21,000. WalesOnline reported that those who refused to leave the park were all paid large sums, but most walked away last year with nothing.
Mr Edwards went on to sell the site to Vale Holiday Parks on the provision that he would end the issue of residents living there permanently, but prior to the sale, he said: “Our rules have always been clear that we are a leisure park and owners could only stay with us on holiday.
We have always asked our owners for a home address. “When the Welsh Government justifiably asked us to close fully in March 2020, we became aware that there were approximately 40 owners who could not leave straight away because, since purchasing their caravans, they had decided to sell their homes or rent them out for extra income while maintaining them as a postal address.
These owners had not told us about this.
“We agreed then with the local authority that we would put in measures to stop this happening in the future and to remedy what was happening at the moment. “We informed all owners in July 2020 that we would introduce a further requirement that they prove to us that they have a residential address elsewhere that they do in fact live at. We reminded them again in August 2020.
“Originally we asked owners to start to comply with our rules by the end of October 2020. The majority did, and with this being the case, and not to cause undue stress on those who needed a little longer, the local authority granted an extension until March 1, 2021, as they were content with what we had put into place and our monitoring.
“The updated rules were sent out in October, prior to any payments being taken for the coming 2021 season. The new rules therefore applied to everyone who renewed for 2021.
“We told them that their remedy was to move to a main residence away from the park. We said that, because the situation had been going on for so long, it was unlikely to be enough to just tell us that they had moved and they should produce some evidence that they are now in fact living somewhere else.
“While one option for them would be to sell their caravan, they were also welcome to remain our customers as long as they were prepared to comply with the park rules by only visiting us for holidays.”
Doug and Pam, who still visit the site club for a drink at weekends, now live in a rented bungalow in Barry after struggling to find alternative accommodation.
Pam said: “It’s only by luck we got it. We tried to get a council-owned property but they had none.” “We had a wonderful time for 20 years,” Pam said, reminiscing on the times they had at the park before notice to leave arrived, “It was a shock. We couldn’t believe it. Everyone knew we were living there and nothing was said for two decades.”