For many of you, this will be as easy as 1,2,3, because you are 17 or 18, and you still live with your parents, and your friends have recommended their driving instructor to you. To you guys, I wish you the best of luck with your lessons, and hope everything goes well for you!
This post, however, is aimed at those of you who have moved away from home, and are wanting to learn to drive in a city/town you didn’t grow up in. I am posting this, because I had an absolute nightmare with a company who seemed to be a very reputable business, and don’t want anyone to have to go through that. It’s just made me world wary and cynical, and if I can save any of you from that, this will be worth it. Here’s my story.
I decided to start taking driving lessons after my second year at university, as a lot of job offers seemed to depend on it. I called/sent enquiries to about 8 different driving companies that operated in my university town. I only heard back from one, sso I decided to go with them. They were a national driving school and had a good website, so when they phoned, I agreed to sign up on the day. I paid for 20 lessons in advance, and they told me that they would assign an instructor to me within 4 days. Here is the first warning; contracts do not have to be written. A verbal contract can be just as legitimate.
Two weeks later, I still hadn’t heard anything so I called customer services, where I was informed that I had been assigned an intstructor but hadn’t been told. Needless too say, this instructor never got in touch, so I called again, and got reassigned to a new one. This one didn’t call either, nor reply to my messages or phone calls. By the time they assigned me a third instructor two months had passed, an I was so impacient that I decided to wash my hands of them and find a new school.
The legal page on their website stated that if you had not stepped into an instructor’s car, you were entitled to a full refund within 2 weeks. 2 weeks passed, but no money appeared in my account. A month later, no money appeared in my account. By this point, I had signed up with another instructor, and was losing money, fast. When nearly three months had gone by with no sign of the refund, I phoned my bank and asked for them to get my money back via the chargeback system. (This is the link to the Wikipedia page, if you’re unsure of what chargeback is). Finally, at long last, I got my money back, which was several hundreds of pounds.
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Three weeks later, I recieved an email from my bank, informing me that the driving company had disputed my chargeback, and that my refund would be taken off me if the matter couldn’t be settled in a satisfactory manner. It seemed that they had accused me of breach of contract, as they claimed that an instructor had tried to contact me (which was untrue). I even had written proof that I had contacted him, and recieved no reply. So, I did my research, and prepared to take them to a small claims court. This is not something a 21 year old should have to do, whilst simultaneously sitting final year university exams and completing her dissertation and I was extremely frustrated and angry at this company for wasting my time.
So this is my advice. If a company has charged you for services you never receive, Citizens Advice Bureau is a great place to start. They will advise you in the best way they can. Remember that chargeback is an option (though I don’t know whether all banks provide this service), and you may have to prepare yourself for the fact that the company opposing you may dispute it. To add to this, you can report a company to Trading Standards. Be prepared for a fair bit of paperwork if you decide to go down this route.
Finally, I hate to tell you this, but a lot of companies out there are fakes. If you suspect that a company you have given money to is not legitimate, there is an easy way to check. Companies House is a government run website that is legally required to list all limited companies. (I’ll write a separate post on the differences between limited companies and public limited companies, but that’s for another time). If you can’t find a seemingly large company on here, you may be in trouble.
In the end, I was very lucky in that my refund was never retracted, but I hope that my experience will save a few of you from making the mistake I did. As with all of my posts, I cannot by held accountable for anything that occurs as a result of the advice given here, I am not a lawyer. However, I hope it makes you slightly more aware of your options.
Good luck with finding your driving instructor. I recommend going with a local one, even if the waiting list is slightly longer!