A couple who mis-sold driving lessons to thousands of learner drivers across the country have been sentenced to 46 weeks’ custody, suspended for two years, at Leeds Crown Court today (Friday 24th July) after pleading guilty to breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
The pair have also:
- been ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work
- received director disqualifications for seven years
- been ordered to pay £24,974.09 in compensation, £50,000 in court costs and £100 each in victim surcharges.
Beverley Midgley-McDonald (51) and Alistair Midgley-McDonald (52), of Stanwell Road, Penarth, ran ‘Drive Dynamics’, a driving school that promised customers very cheap driving lessons with local instructors, who were either independent driving instructors or franchisees.
The company advertised online, describing itself as ‘the UK’s most liked driving school’. This attracted many learner drivers who paid hundreds of pounds up-front for driving lessons. They were told their money would be refunded if a local instructor was not available.
Customers soon discovered the promises made by ‘Drive Dynamics’ were too good to be true. Specifically:
Customers would not be contacted as promised or even at all about arranging a lesson.
Instructors were not available in the learner’s area so lessons could not be provided unless the customer was prepared to travel elsewhere to get them, sometimes hours away.
Instructors who were available were not prepared to provide or continue with lessons, if they had started, because they had not been paid by ‘Drive Dynamics’
Every year from 2013 the company received hundreds of complaints, either directly or via Citizens Advice, Action Fraud, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and Trading Standards services from across the country. Hundreds of customers sought refunds or repayment through chargebacks, but the company actively tried to avoid giving refunds.In mid-2014, ‘Drive Dynamics’ was contacted by West Yorkshire Trading Standards and received training and advice to improve business practices, such as processing refunds, terms and conditions, cancellation rights and claims on its website. This advice led to a fall in complaints.
The company behind Drive Dynamics went into liquidation in 2015 – as it was unable to pay its creditors – and ceased trading, although it appeared that Drive Dynamics itself was still operating. The company was still trading, still making sales and still generating complaints under a newly incorporated company. Thereafter, the company continued with the same flawed business model that generated even more complaints.
Customers regularly posted negative reviews of the company on Trust Pilot, which led the defendants to hire outside agencies to manipulate review sites rather than provide refunds or improve business operations. As well as customer detriment, many drivers who had provided lessons simply weren’t paid.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“The defendants profited from a business model that cheated learner drivers and instructors. Their company took people’s money, frequently didn’t give them what they’d paid for and ignored complaints and refund requests. Rather than take steps to improve their operation, they have acted dishonestly and it is only right that they now face consequences for their actions.”
The sentences follow an investigation by the National Trading Standards Regional Investigation Team (Yorkshire and Humber), which is hosted by City of York Council.
Councillor Andrew Waller, portfolio holder for Trading Standards at City of York Council, said:
Our team undertook a complex investigation into a prolonged period of unfair trading. Not only did the defendants leave hundreds of learner drivers, parents and driving instructors substantially out of pocket, but they tried to frustrate and delay the investigation getting to court. I applaud our investigators for their persistence and showing that unfair trading won’t be tolerated.”
The Advertising Standards Authority had also issued warnings to Drive Dynamics, ruling that its advertising to instructors was misleading.