Keywords: consumers – ADR – BVRLA – conciliation – CTSI.
The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) conciliation service is supposed to be independent and fair. It seems the BVRLA does not understand what independent and fair mean.
A friend (‘R’) hired a van from a company called Allied 4 Vans in Castleford, West Yorkshire in September 2017. The hire was for seven days. The van had done 36,000 miles at the start of the hire period. The clutch failed after three days/250 miles. The van was recovered by the AA and taken back to Castleford. Allied 4 Vans then sent R an invoice for over £1,158 for a completely new clutch on the basis of ‘driver abuse’ in the three day hire period. R’s position is that he (and the other named driver) had not damaged the clutch and he was not paying for a completely new clutch.
I’m going to write separately about Allied 4 Vans. This post is about the BVRLA conciliation service. R complained to the BVRLA conciliation service to try to resolve the dispute between him and Allied 4 Vans.
There are now a range of consumer alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes set up under the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015.1 The ADR Regulations implement an EU Directive on consumer ADR.2 The Directive was intended to increase consumer protection for EU citizens with access to simple, quick and low-cost ways of resolving disputes.
The ADR Regulations establish competent authorities to certify consumer ADR schemes and set standards for those ADR schemes. Except in specific areas, the competent authority is the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has been appointed to carry out the Secretary of State’s functions.
2. R’s complaint to the BVRLA Conciliation Service
R’s complaint to the BVRLA conciliation service was that he should not have to pay for a new clutch for the van. The BVRLA investigated his complaint and its response on 18 January 2018 was:
The vehicle was then inspected by an independent mechanic, and having reviewed the report we can see that they have confirmed that the clutch had fully deteriorated and would have been caused by driver negligence e.g., excessive pressure on clutch pedal when not necessary. As this type of damaged is classed as driver negligence the damage excess amount would be void and the full cost of repair would be charged.
This was the first R had heard about the vehicle being inspected by an independent mechanic. The ADR Regulations set out standards which ADR providers, including the BVRLA, have to meet to be approved and for the approval to continue. There are a range of requirements designed to ensure accessible, fair and transparent procedures. There are specific requirements in relation to the ADR body providing a party with the other side’s evidence and allowing the party to comment on them. The requirements are in Schedule 3 to the ADR Regulations. Paragraph 7 says:
7. The body [i.e. the BVRLA conciliation service]—
(a) ensures that during the alternative dispute resolution procedure the parties may, within a reasonable period of time, express their points of view;
(b) provides a party to a dispute within a reasonable period of time, upon request, with the arguments, evidence, documents and facts put forward by the other party to the dispute, including a statement made, or opinion given, by an expert;
(c) ensures that the parties may, within a reasonable period of time, comment on the information and documents provided under paragraph (b).
R emailed the BVRLA conciliation service to ask for a copy of the report of the independent mechanic and any other documents which the BVRLA had received from Allied 4 Vans. After several reminders, he received the following response on 9 February 2018 from the manager of the BVRLA conciliation service:
I have reviewed your case, and I can see that we provided you with the outcome of our investigation and our decision on 17 January. To reiterate, we believed the evidence presented to us indicated the driver was responsible for the clutch damage, and we were therefore unable to uphold your complaint.
I understand you are requesting further documents, however Allied 4 Vans has confirmed that all relevant documents have already been provided to you. We are therefore unable to assist you further and can confirm this is our final word on the matter.
The response is a complete failure to follow the ADR Regulations and elementary standards of fairness: the BVRLA has to provide a party with the evidence submitted by the other side but is refusing to do so. It is not clear what the problem is. It might be straightforward incompetence: the conciliation service manager does not understand the ADR Regulations or basic principles of fairness. It seems unlikely she would put in an email a flat refusal to give a party the documents if she knew it the rules required the documents to be provided. It does seem astonishing that the BVRLA would appoint a manager of the conciliation service – who supervises four conciliation officers – where the manager does not understand basic procedural fairness?
It may also indicate a more serious problem. The BVRLA is the trade body for firms which rent and lease vehicles and its core function is to represent its members’ interests. The response ‘we believed the evidence presented to us’ relates to the evidence provided by Allied 4 Vans, the BVRLA’s member. The BVRLA will not show R the evidence or allow R to comment on it. Going beyond simple incompetence, it may be that the BVRLA conciliation service is unable to act independently or impartially in disputes between its member and their customers. It is too keen to protect its members’ interests. The obvious answer to this is: the BVRLA should not be running the conciliation service for the vehicle rental and leasing market.
R complained to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) which approves and regulates the BVRLA conciliation scheme. Under Regulation 13 of the ADR Regulations, CTSI has to give notice to the BVRLA that it is in breach of the rules. If the BVRLA does not comply with the rules, its approval can be withdrawn. Of course, having to complain to the CTSI defeats the whole point of the ADR in that it is no longer quick and simple.
R got nowhere with the BVRLA Conciliation Scheme and pursued a small claim at his local county court. R won on all points: the judge decided that the Allied 4 Vans evidence was unbelievable. You can read about the claim against Allied 4 Vans here.
Statutes and secondary legislation
The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015, SI 2015/542 (link is to legislation.gov.uk)
The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Amendment) Regulations 2015, SI 2015/1392 (link is to legislation.gov.uk)
Directive on Consumer ADR 2013/11/EU (link is to eur-lex.europa.eu)