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Independents slow to sign up to service code

Only one-tenth of workshops that have subscribed to the new code of practice for service and repair since its launch to the trade in May are independent.

The rest are franchised service centres. However, Motor Codes director Chris Mason said he hoped numbers would balance out to 50/50 within the next year.

Launched to consumers last week, the code has just over 4,000 garage members, falling short of the 5,000 Mason wanted by this time.

The figure was a “week or two behind what they’d hoped” because the process of subscribing garages took time, Mason said.

He expects between 8,000 and 9,000 members in the code’s first year.

Unwilling to give longer-term expectations, he said: "Let’s work out how many garages there are and see what a reasonable figure might be first. It’s not about getting a few thousand on board and sitting back. We’re in it for the long term."

The code gained Office of Fair Trading (OFT) stage one approval in its Consumer Codes Approval Scheme only last week, despite an initial September 2006 deadline from the National Consumer Council (NCC).

Now the motor industry must show it has sufficient buy-in from workshops and will work effectively in practice. Once this has been determined from monitoring, which will include biennial garage visits and customer satisfaction surveys, stage two approval will be granted.

Expected to take about a year, this will mean qualifying garages can display the OFT Approved Code logo.

A £75,000 marketing campaign will target consumers in the next six months, funded by Motor Codes. Local trading standards will also spread the message.

Consumers who are unhappy with service will firstly approach a garage’s customer service representative, which all subscribers must have.

Unresolved cases will be referred to a conciliation service, and ultimately to independent arbitration with a fixed fee for both parties.

The number of trading standards complaints on garages will be used as a measure of the code’s success, said Steve Brooker, NCC senior policy advocate.

If recurring problems occur, said Mason, such as overcharging, then “we will add a clause to the code to prevent this from happening”.

Both Ford and Peugeot’s entire dealer networks have already signed up to the standard.

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