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Repair industry threatened with 'super complaint'

The car repair sector has been threatened with a ‘super complaint’ because of ‘years of shoddy service and rip-off charges’.

The National Consumer Council, together with its Scottish (SCC) and Welsh (WCC) counterparts, has made the threat in a letter to trade bodies accusing the £7 billion a year industry of ‘inaction’ and ‘lack of engagement’ with the problems suffered by consumers – estimated to cost them £4 billion a year.

The industry, say the councils, is failing to regulate itself effectively despite no fewer than 11 attempts to raise standards over the last 30 years.

NCC is now launching an examination of the industry's refusal to put its house in order and what could be done to improve standards.

Explaining the supercomplaint threat, NCC chair Deirdre Hutton, says: 'We are throwing down the gauntlet to the industry. Years of inaction defy the harm this sector inflicts on consumers. Unless the industry rises to our challenge and gets serious about addressing the problems consumers suffer, a supercomplaint may be the only way forward.

'Owning and running a car is expensive - the equivalent of about a third of the purchase price goes on servicing and repairs during its lifetime. Most consumers aren't car mechanics - they don't know what needs doing to their car, whether it's been done properly or whether they've got value for money. What's more, shoddy repairs can put consumers and their families at risk of serious injury or death.'

The NCC points out that every mystery shopping exercise on car repair and servicing businesses proves people are getting a bad deal - consistently and comprehensively. Widespread failures include missed faults; work done unnecessarily (and sometimes without approval); charges for work that hasn't been done; work done badly; poor customer care; and industry standards not complied with.

The NCC has written to the industry demanding an urgent meeting and has copied the letter to Consumer Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, Jacqui Smith, and OFT chief Sir John Vickers.

  • The NCC, WCC and SCC have the power to submit supercomplaints under the Enterprise Act 2002. Section 11 defines a super complaint as a complaint submitted by a designated consumer body that 'any feature, or combination of features, of a market in the UK for goods or services is or appears to be significantly harming the interests of consumers'. NCC submitted its first super complaint (on home credit) to the OFT in June 2004. As a result the home credit industry is now being investigated by the Competition Commission.
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