In 2021 we bought our 17 year old a voucher for classes with Ooosh! driving school and paid £600 by bank transfer. Shortly after, the instructor, Mike Vallis, said there had been a “family tragedy” and he had been unable to start lessons for a few weeks. After a few months we tried to contact him, but he could not be reached.
Oh ! said he was dropped because he was unreliable. He eventually arranged for another instructor but said we had to pay again as the fees are paid directly to the instructors. Since April we have been trying to get our initial £600 back from Ooosh! and Vallis.
SH, Omeath, County Louth
You say you chose Ooosh! as it is a household name in the North West of England, where you were living at the time, and offers courses across the country. You trusted the brand.
What you didn’t know is that most driving schools are franchises. Client contracts are with individual instructors who pay the school a fee to use their name.
You didn’t know that because the terms and conditions on Ooosh! the site makes no mention of it. In fact, they specifically referenced the school’s responsibilities if a lesson is postponed. You say no T&C was provided with the voucher.
Jamie Traynor, general manager of Ooosh!, tells me he’s helped “over 70” other customers get a refund from Vallis. “The school doesn’t handle money, all instructors are self-employed and handle learner payments,” says Traynor. “We vet instructors thoroughly and Mike initially had a good relationship with his learners, but then we started getting complaints that he was unreliable.”
Traynor insisted the terms and conditions were clear, although the reference to school responsibilities has since been removed.
When I tracked down Vallis, he claimed he had unwittingly overbooked his journal and found himself unable to complete or refund lessons that clients had paid for.
He said he also failed his instructor training courses three times and blamed Ooosh! for not framing it. “I fully intend to repay SH if I had the money, but it has shattered my sanity and I am unable to work,” he said.
It may come as a surprise to know that trainee instructors are allowed to teach paid lessons before they have passed their qualifying exams, provided they are registered with the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) database in as a potential driving instructor (PDI).
Customers with concerns about a potential or licensed instructor can file a complaint with the DVSA, who can ban them from teaching if they are found to have violated regulations. However, the DVSA can only investigate registered instructors, and Vallis’ PDI registration has expired. Nor does it have the power to impose refunds.
People can go the small claims route. But this opens a new Pandora’s box. If a county court judgment is won, it may not be enforceable if the person does not have sufficient assets. However, there could be a case against Ooosh!, according to Gary Rycroft, consumer law attorney and partner at Joseph A Jones.
“The school’s argument that it is only acting as an agent is undermined by the terms and conditions which refer to an active party to the provision of services under the contract,” it said. -he declares. “On the face of it, an argument that he is not responsible for the performance of the contract would fail.”
Learner drivers should try to pay by credit card so that they can claim against their bank under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act in the event of a breach of contract. Debit card payments may be protected by the Voluntary Chargeback System. Most importantly, learners should ensure that they choose an approved instructor from the DVSA database.
But here is another surprise. Instructors can choose not to appear on the online database, so anyone wishing to consult with someone who does not appear should call the DVSA and support their automated queuing system.
Why? The DVSA wouldn’t say, but they told me that they were recently consulted on possible changes to the way they publish this information.
On the right track for good news
It’s healthy for our collective blood pressure to hear about companies that show they care about their customers:
I bought my boyfriend a small box of chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. When we opened them later that day, some had melted. I messaged the company on Instagram, and within an hour they had apologized. The next day a voucher arrived exceeding the cost of the original box!
I bought a pair of Wilkinson Sword loppers with a 10 year guarantee two years ago for £40. They developed a fault and I contacted brand owner EP Barrus. I received a response within the hour and a replacement three days later.
NP Stroud, Gloucestershire
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