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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
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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.
MAPPING IT OUT Drivers will benefit from costs being detailed online