Organisations in 16 sectors, which include used car sales and car repair and servicing, are being invited to apply for CCAS status, of which the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association is one of four pioneers.
The OFT has budgeted £1.64m to launch the scheme in financial year 2004/05. It wants an unspecified number of sector trade associations to prove their capability before arranging a high-profile public announcement. Trade bodies and others must initially convince the OFT of their promise to deliver a better customer service – representatives of direct selling firms, estate agents and travel agents are also at stage one. Stage two involves providing the OFT with evidence that the programme can meet the criteria.
Graham Coleshill, RMI director of legal services, says: “We are not at stage one because it is a rocky road. I am confident we will meet the OFT criteria and that consumers will eventually benefit.
“The Consumers' Association has been unfair to criticise the OFT scheme as toothless . We are satisfied that independent monitoring and disciplining will protect customers. Dealers who sit on our regional and national committees back the OFT's determination to make compliance tough.”
RMI dealers pay £100 + VAT a year for inclusion in the CarWise scheme, on top of their annual subscription, which costs from £300/400 plus VAT, depending on the size of the business. Non-members who want to sign up to CarWise pay £525+VAT.
The Institute of the Motor Industry, pressing for a system of technician accreditation in the retail motor industry, is developing a model with the co-operation of BMW, Toyota, Kwik-Fit, Harley-Davidson UK and other automotive organisations.
Stuart Brooks, IMI head of public relations, says: “We welcome the OFT code, as we do any initiative that contributes to the debate about raising standards. “We must though see how it works in practice, and whether automotive organisations seeking to comply can convince the OFT of their commitment to training.” Colin Brown, OFT director of codes, who used to work for the Consumers' Association, adds: “Our objective is the removal of bad companies from the motor trade, and our criteria are tough to show that we mean business. “Companies that qualify will be able to display the OFT code in their premises and on their stationery.
Consumers will come to view this as a convenient and comprehensive way of selecting firms offering a quality service or products.” Sue Cook, OFT head of marketing, surprised many when she claimed the OFT was “putting its credibility on the line” with this programme. “But the logo means people will be treated fairly,” she added. “They will be able to trace local CCAS traders via our website. Not all businesses that qualify need to do so through their trade organisations – some might do so through a local authority.”
Computer retailers and pest control operators are among the other sectors included in the scheme, intended to protect consumers.