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Trans­par­ent pric­ing on car hire web­sites is just the be­gin­ning if UK trav­ellers are to be pro­tected

TCONSUMER TRAVEL EX­PERT

here were some rea­sons to be cheer­ful over Easter – at least as far as our cam­paign for Safer, Fairer, Bet­ter Travel goes. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this col­umn will know that one of our read­ers’ ma­jor con­cerns and great­est causes for com­plaint is the way that car hire is sold and ad­min­is­tered – espe­cially at the pick-up point.

Last week­end, the Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Au­thor­ity (CMA) – the UK’s pri­mary com­pe­ti­tion and con­sumer au­thor­ity – an­nounced that it had com­pleted its year-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion into on­line com­pa­nies that sell car hire in this coun­try. The CMA’s en­force­ment work was launched as a re­sult of its re­view of car rental price com­par­i­son sites, which found many were ad­ver­tis­ing very low head­line prices to cus­tomers by not in­clud­ing all costs. This, it said, left peo­ple pay­ing more than ex­pected at the check­out, with­out all the in­for­ma­tion about what they were pay­ing for.

Ac­cord­ing to the CMA, as a re­sult of its work to en­sure that those com­pa­nies com­ply with UK con­sumer pro­tec­tion law, all the lead­ing web­sites have com­mit­ted to trans­par­ent pric­ing that in­cludes all com­pul­sory costs. Where ap­pli­ca­ble, they must in­clude manda­tory charges such as fuel sur­charges, young driver fees and out-of-hours pick up charges. They must also show the amounts of any de­posits and in­sur­ance ex­cesses, pol­icy on fuel charges, and what ex­actly the in­sur­ance cov­ers.

“UK cus­tomers can be more con­fi­dent they will not be hit by hid­den charges and un­ex­pected fees,” claims Michael Gren­fell, the CMA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for en­force­ment.

That of course is wel­come, but the big­ger prob­lem – at least as far as our read­ers’ feed­back sug­gests – is what hap­pens when you pick your car up over­seas. What pres­sure will you come un­der to buy ex­pen­sive in­sur­ance? How will any dam­age be de­tected and recorded, and how much will you be charged for it?

So, for me, the re­ally good news about the end­ing of the CMA’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion in

Our ex­perts make your travel their busi­ness

the UK is that it says it will now ex­tend its in­quiry and launch its first di­rect ac­tion against car hire com­pa­nies based out­side the UK.

“Fol­low­ing ex­ten­sive com­plaints from peo­ple en­coun­ter­ing hid­den costs on col­lec­tion of their car at the air­port abroad, the CMA is now tak­ing en­force­ment ac­tion against busi­nesses based over­seas but sell­ing di­rectly to UK cus­tomers on­line.” It specif­i­cally cites “hid­den charges for fuel, sur­pris­ingly high ex­cess amounts and hid­den in­sur­ance costs” among its con­cerns. As Gren­fell pointed out: “Just be­cause a busi­ness is not on UK soil doesn’t mean the law doesn’t ap­ply when it sells in the UK. Bri­tish con­sumers have a right to pro­tec­tion un­der con­sumer law and the CMA will work to en­sure they re­ceive it.” We await the re­sults with in­ter­est.

SOPHIE BUT­LER

TRAVEL EX­PERT

MAP­PING IT OUT Driv­ers will ben­e­fit from costs be­ing detailed online

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