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Huge fine for car dealership which misled customer

A car dealership has been fined a whopping £134,000 after being found guilty of failing to inform a customer that a vehicle’s ‘one previous owner’ was in fact a car rental company.

Middlesbrough Council’s Trading Standards team took Evans Halshaw parent company Pendragon Motor Group Ltd to court after receiving a complaint from a member of the public.

Teesside Magistrates’ Court heard evidence of a single allegation that the motor trader had engaged in an unfair commercial practice by failing to disclose important information about the previous ownership of the vehicle which would have affected the consumer’s decision about whether to make a purchase.

District Judge Helen Cousins, who heard the case, concluded that: “It may be a matter for debate as to whether the number of previous owners of a motor vehicle is, in itself, information a consumer ‘needs’. 

“However, in a case where an advertisement promoting the positive features of a vehicle which make it attractive to potential purchasers describes the vehicle as ‘one registered keeper’, it seems to me that the average consumer does indeed need to be properly informed about what that phrase means.

“In my view an average consumer would be misled by such a description if applied to an ex-hire company vehicle without further clarification.

“I therefore find that the identity of the one registered keeper as a car rental business is information the average consumer needs.”

The court was told how in April 2017 the potential customer saw an advertisement for a vehicle said to have one registered keeper. He made further enquiries and paid a refundable fee of £200 for the car to be brought to a dealership nearer to his home.

When he went to see it, he found the condition to be unacceptable but he also discovered that the one registered keeper was in fact Enterprise Leasing Company.

As a result the buyer did not purchase the vehicle and his deposit was returned in full. He then complained to Middlesbrough Council’s Trading Standards due to the misleading information effectively wasting his time.

Pendragon Motor Group Ltd was found guilty following a trial last month. The company was brought back to court today (Wednesday, November 21) where a fine of £134,000 was imposed as well as an order to pay £9,360.47 costs.

The same company was prosecuted by Middlesbrough Council in 2016 for the same practice. In that case Pendragon was found guilty of two offences and fined £4,000 in total with a victim surcharge of £120 and costs of £2,248.52.

Judith Hedgley, Middlesbrough Council’s Head of Public Protection, said: “The law makes it quite clear, it requires customers to be given enough information about important matters in any purchase to enable them to make an informed decision whether to buy.

“This company has not changed its practices since our first prosecution in 2016 and therefore this outcome should not be a surprise to them.”

Cllr Julia Rostron, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health, said: “The action we have taken here is a very clear protection of consumer rights.

“Consumers should be given all the relevant information when they are purchasing goods so they can make an informed decision - any right-minded person would consider it of importance if ‘one previous owner’ turned out to be a car rental company.

“It is of serious concern that this is the second time we have taken this company to court on the same issue and we hope that the size of this fine and the judge’s comments will drive the message home once and for all hat this behaviour is unacceptable.”