RCWS scheme logo with Tag

Licensing for Hand Car Washes?

1st July 2021 | Hand Car Wash

The hand car wash sector has long been identified as an area of high risk for labour market abuses, as well as a multitude of other non-compliances.

The Clewer Initiative

Teresa Sayers, Managing Director of The Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS) explains how a new pilot should help to provide evidence of the effectiveness of licensing businesses.

The hand car wash sector has long been identified as an area of high risk for labour market abuses, as well as a multitude of other non-compliances. Mathew Taylor used his first speech as Interim Director of Labour Market Enforcement in February 2020 to call for the mandatory licensing of hand car washes, having reached the conclusion that “a range of forms of non-compliance are endemic in the hand car wash sector”. The government’s recent decision to create a single enforcement body responsible for employment rights provides the opportunity to consider both the extension and implementation of licensing regimes to new sectors.

The Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS), launched late 2018 to drive up standards in the car wash and valeting industry, supports the licensing of hand car washes. Its Code of Practice and audit regime provides independent third-party assessment, confirming compliance across the different facets of regulation that cover hand car washes. Despite having proved its effectiveness, we find that many operators are reluctant to sign up to the RCWS scrutiny because they feel that many of their competitors continue to operate with apparent impunity.

The number of car washes across the country is now believed to be in the region of 7,000, a significant reduction from figures previously quoted, following extensive mapping undertaken by Nottingham Trent University. Of these, independent operators have a substantial market share being located at petrol stations, garages, retail car parks as well as at standalone premises. Data collected from The Clewer Initiative’s Safe Car Wash App contributes to our understanding of both the location of these sites as well as concerns over noncompliance.

In a new pilot, the RCWS is working with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and Slough Council to evaluate the effectiveness of the scheme when implemented with the support of local council enforcement. Each operator is being asked to demonstrate compliance in planning consent, trading standards, payment of business rates, site health and safety, environmental disposal of waste and compliant employment practices. Operators are encouraged to apply for RCWS Accreditation with successful sites being able to display the RCWS logo evidencing to consumers and enforcement agencies that they have demonstrated compliant practices. As an incentive, operators in Slough have had their accreditation fees waived.

RCWS scheme logo with Tag

Three other Boroughs namely Luton, Hillingdon and Watford are also part of the pilot. In Luton the RCWS is working on its own with no local council support; Hillingdon will see all the landowners with car wash tenants contacted by the GLAA to discuss compliance in hand car washes; and Watford is being used as a control with no interventions.

Recognising that education is a key driver to bring about change, a key element of the pilot is to educate the operator about compliance as well as educating the public and businesses on what to look out for when visiting a car wash. Our ethos is to provide support and guidance to operators who wish to operate a compliant site. For consumers it’s about giving them the information to make an informed choice on who they use to wash their car.

Working with Slough Council we will actively promote sites that gain accreditation to drive change in consumer behaviour and to encourage operators to get on board. To support this, we have launched the #FairWash campaign with the aim of levelling the playing field for operators so they can compete on an equal footing, and to be a positive force in improving conditions for workers by upholding their statutory rights and protecting them from exploitative work practices.

At the time of writing, we are proud to announce that we have accredited two car washes in Slough with several others part way through the process, and we are working with others to work towards full compliance. The pilot is due to finish at the end of July when it will be independently evaluated by Nottingham Trent University with the final report being submitted to government.

Licensing of hand car washes, how this could be implemented and by whom is still a matter of debate. Our aim is to contribute to the discussion by providing evidence on the effectiveness of the RCWS Code of Practice in raising standards when implemented under different scenarios.

For more information on our work, please visit our website www.rcws.org.uk

To find out more about The Clewer Initiative’s Safe Car Wash app, visit https://www.theclewerinitiative.org/campaigns/safe-car-wash

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