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RMI attacks DTI 'good trader' recommendation

The RMI has criticised the Department of Trade and Industry task force Report published this morning into car servicing and repair that recommends the introduction of a voluntary 'good trader' scheme for garages.

RMI chief executive David Evans, said: “Garages already have the option of voluntarily joining a trade association like the RMI which sets out and monitors minimum quality standards in its membership criteria. There would be little value in replicating such a system.

“I would argue that if any further schemes to regulate garages were introduced, they should be managed and policed by the RMI which already has the greatest expertise in this field.”

The RMI inspects standards and is in “constant” dialogue with Trading Standards offices to improve service standards. It has also set up motor trade partnership schemes with more than 40 Trading Standards offices across the country. Our earlier story on the task force report
A Government task force established a year ago to examine ways to improve standards in vehicle service and repair has calling for trade associations to improve their codes of practice and establish a voluntary 'good practice' scheme for garages.

The report, 'Jacking up standards in car servicing', from the Department of Trade and Industry task force admitted it had been unable to agree on a single solution and instead it recommends two main measures and a series of subsidiary steps. Each will now be subject to market testing and public consultation. The results of this are due to be published in early 2002.

The two main measures proposed by the task force are:

  • Stronger trade association codes of practice
    The main trade associations represented on the Task Force (Retail Motor Industry Federation, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Scottish Motor Industry Association and Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association) have agreed to improve their codes of practice and effective compliance. They agree to work "constructively with the OFT in adopting its new more rigorous approach to self-regulation".

  • Voluntary 'good trader' scheme for garages
    It is envisaged that any scheme would be applied across the UK and its core would be implementation of a set of minimum standards of good practice, which have been developed by the task force, but which are “similar to many features of the current industry codes”.

    Additional recommendations include the use of 'mystery shopping' to measure compliance; the promotion of the draft minimum standards via trade associations and local authorities; the collection of more evidence showing how the consumer has been victims of bad practice in the industry and the introduction of a customer feedback form distributed in garages.

    The task force report says that enhanced codes of practice would require the trade associations to convince theOFT it was providing adequate complaints' handling and enforcement procedures and deliver clearer proof of members' compliance with the codes. A 'good trader' scheme would “ensure that those garages that joined complied with minimum standards; would make it easier for consumers to identify good traders and marginalise those not prepared to commit to the minimum standards”.

    The SMMT has responded by calling on the Government to set up a compulsory licensing scheme for motor traders, where any company selling, repairing or servicing cars would have to show it works to a set of minimum standards before being granted a licence to trade. Regular inspections, by properly funded trading standards officers, would ensure standards are maintained and consumers receive high quality service. A voluntary scheme, it says, will not go far enough to police those who consistently fail the consumer.

    “On paper a voluntary scheme might seem like a good idea, and the quality end of the market will readily sign up to a set of standards. Others will simply ignore it and carry on regardless,” said SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan. “As things stand, anyone can set themselves up in used car sales, repair and servicing without proper training, equipment or on-site facilities. A well-enforced and compulsory licensing system is the only way we can ensure that those who provide shoddy service are weeded out and removed from the market.”

    The SMMT recommends that the Code of Practice for the Motor Industry is used by the government as a starting point for new motor trader standards. The code, which has OFT approval and which all members of SMMT follow, has comprehensive provisions for new and used car sales, and sets minimum standards for aftersales servicing and repairs. Today's task force findings come a year after the OFT published its Car Servicing and Repairs report. The report, which included a survey of 2,726 consumers, found areas of “sub-standard service that have persisted for years” and the OFT report found evidence of bad practice across the whole sector. Complaints to trading standards departments have also more than doubled to over 27,000 a year since OFT did its first report on the sector in 1985.

    However, overall satisfaction with both servicing and repair was reported as 'very high'; 92% of services and 86% of repairs resulted in a satisfied customer.

    The full report by the task force is on the DTI website.

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