A caravan, to most of us, brings to mind cramped “holiday” accommodation in wet, seaside fields.
Motor caravans (including camper vans) are large vehicles, but benefit from reduced rates of road tax and reduced compliance obligations. They are used for leisure purposes (ie. tourism) which the State obviously has an interest in encouraging.
However, a “motor caravan”, as defined in Irish law, can be a much larger vehicle than the traditional caravan or camper van. For example, a commercial vehicle like a truck can be converted into a motor caravan and might have a large storage area which could be used to contain bicycles, or even animals. Once the vehicle meets the requirements of the Revenue Commissioners and is used for private purposes it can benefit from a special €95 rate of road tax. If its weight does not exceed 7.5 tonnes it does not require a tachograph machine.
Concessionary rate of road tax
The issue of road tax sometimes arises when the owner of a large motor caravan is accused of having paid the incorrect rate of tax. A vehicle must be taxed at the highest rate applicable to its use and, for example, commercial vehicles are taxed according to weight.
The definition of a “motor caravan”, for the purposes of road tax, is:
a vehicle which is shown to the satisfaction of the Commissioners to be designed, constructed or adapted to provide temporary living accommodation which has an interior height of not less than 1.8 metres when measured in such manner as may be approved by the Commissioners and, in respect of which vehicle, such design, construction or adaptation incorporates the following permanently fitted equipment—
(a) a sink unit,
(b) cooking equipment of not less than a hob with 2 rings or such other cooking equipment as may be prescribed, and
(c) any other equipment or fittings as may be prescribed
A special annual rate of tax for motor caravans has existed in Ireland since 1998, currently €95. By contrast, rates of road tax for commercial goods vehicles can reach almost €5,000 annually.
The fairness of the special rate for motor caravans was raised in the Dáil in 2012 by Sandra McLellan TD (SF; Cork East), who asked:
whether it is equitable that a large motor caravan only pays €95 road tax while it costs €307 for an 1108cc Fiat Panda
Phil Hogan TD (FG; Carlow-Kilkenny), Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government explained the background to the rate.
I understand that the rationale behind the introduction of the concessionary rate was that, while motor caravans are generally less in use than many other categories of vehicle, rates of motor tax were relatively high … I understand it was also considered that a concessionary annual rate of tax for motor caravans would encourage tourism and tourist related activities, not least by facilitating more out-of-season use of motor caravans, where previously owners may have taxed and used the vehicle for only three months of the year due to cost.
Some motor caravans have attracted attention because they resemble commercial goods vehicles, having started out life as such and having been converted into motor caravans. The owner of such a vehicle might be stopped by An Garda Síochána and told that their €95 rate is insufficient and a higher rate, which could well exceed €1,500, is due.
I have successfully defended a number of such prosecutions. If the registration certificate says the vehicle is a motor caravan and it is being used for private and leisure purposes, the €95 rate applies. Prosecutions have arisen because the vehicles in question, while meeting Revenue requirements, included an open cabin area at the rear which might be used for the carriage of, for example, horses. The legislation does not say that this is permitted but neither does it prohibit it. Once the horses are not being carried for commercial purposes, the higher rates do not apply.
Many vehicles require tachograph machines in the interests of road safety. It is often thought that motor caravans are exempt from that requirement, but that is not quite correct.
There are a range of exemptions available and though they have different legislative sources they are listed in the Road Safety Authority tachograph declaration form. The two most relevant to motor caravans relate to weight:
- where gross vehicle weight does not exceed 3.5 tonnes; or
- where the vehicle or combination of vehicles does not exceed 7.5 tonnes and is used for the non‐commercial carriage of goods.
Confusion sometimes arises because the law on tachographs is made primarily on a European Union level and implemented into Irish law. The Irish regulations do not specifically mention all the exemptions available but some of those referred to are similar to those not referred to. Which is less than helpful.
For example, regulation 5(1) of the Irish law exempts a range of vehicles from the requirement to have a tachograph fitted. Subsection (d) refers to combinations of vehicles not exceeding 7.5 tonnes, but only when used by a universal service provider or for carrying equipment for use in the course of the driver’s work. This is sometimes understood to be a qualification of the non-commercial 7.5 tonnes exemption referred to but in fact it is a different exemption. Regulation 5(1) does not contain the full list of exemptions: regulation 21(1) goes on to say that the Irish law does not apply to vehicles exempted by article 3 of Regulation 561/2006, which itself contains the non-commercial 7.5 tonnes exemption.
Therefore, for most caravan owners, if your vehicle is under 7.5 tonnes a tachograph machine is not required.
As with road tax, confusion sometimes arises because converted commercial vehicles might still contain the tachograph machine that was used in the vehicle’s former life. It might not be functioning any more, or the driver might re-use an old tachograph card when driving, each of which could ordinarily constitute offences. However, if a tachograph machine is not required in the vehicle to begin with it does not matter that the machine is not functioning or is not being used properly.