Motor Ombudsman reports rising complaints – are court claims on the horizon for dealerships?

The Motor Ombudsman has reported an increase in complaints relating to electric vehicles in the last year, with 273 electric vehicle complaints being made between January 2023 - March 2023 alone. Whilst the headline is stark, the increase in complaints relating to electric vehicles is in line with the increase in sales of electric vehicles in the last year as consumers look for environmentally friendly alternatives to petrol.

The Motor Ombudsman provides a dispute resolution service for consumers who consider that their complaint has not been properly dealt with by the dealership. The Motor Ombudsman will review a complaint raised by a consumer, reach out to the dealership for their evidence, and make a decision on the issue. The Ombudsman may recommend a cause of action such as recommending repairs, or payment of compensation.

The parties are not bound by the Ombudsman’s final decision if it is rejected by the consumer. If the consumer is dissatisfied with the decision, they are entitled to bring a court claim. Unfortunately, if the dealership disagrees with the Ombudsman’s decision, but the consumer accepts it, the dealership is bound to follow the decision.

Managing consumer expectations

Of the complaints the Ombudsman received for electric vehicles last year, most were regarding customer service. Other complaints related to battery life and the distance travelled after a full charge (an issue which is more prevalent in the cooler months than in the summer). For petrol vehicles, complaints included delays in delivery, vehicle specifications differing due to part shortages, and the provenance of a second-hand vehicle.

Many of the complaints dealt with by the Ombudsman will be familiar to any dealership, especially those resulting from supply delays in the last few years. Having dealt with a significant number of automotive disputes, we know that court claims by consumers tend to include claims for sums the consumer has spent on trying to remedy the issues themselves, on the cost of courtesy cars, and compensation for the inconvenience of dealing with the issues with their car. Whether the consumer specifies it or not, many of these claims relate to the standards that are imposed on dealers when selling the car subject to the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Whilst the claims for compensation may be small, the cost and time of dealing with these claims (which can be unreasonable) can quickly spiral. This is not helped by the Court's expectation that a car dealer ought to have the resources to manage the claim and assist the consumer claimant.

What should dealerships bear in mind?

If you receive a request from the Ombudsman or a Court claim:

  1. Gather all correspondence with the consumer, sales materials and repair logs
  2. Speak to members of staff who spoke with the consumer and ask that they make notes of what was discussed, to the best of their memory, for future reference; and
  3. Consider whether you want to make an offer to settle the dispute. If you can settle the dispute, the outcome may be more palatable and quicker than a decision made by the Ombudsman or the Court

Our team has significant and wide-ranging experience in managing automotive claims arising from alleged issues with the sale or repairs of vehicles on behalf of UK dealerships. If you need assistance in managing these matters or in dealing with complaints generally, please get in touch with Richard Coates, Partner and Head of Automotive.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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