The director of a St Leonards-based car hire company has been ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work after delays in returning deposits left customers out of pocket.
Michael Goodwin, 41, of Main Street, Beckley, pleaded guilty to breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and was sentenced to a high level 12-month community order when he appeared at Lewes Crown Court.
East Sussex Trading Standards was set to apply for a compensation order for the victims they traced, but Goodwin had refunded all the outstanding money by the day of the sentencing hearing on last Friday (Feb 28th).
The case follows a lengthy investigation into complaints from customers of Elsinore Garage and Company Limited, which traded as Car-Hire-UK.com. Despite previous intervention by Trading Standards teams in East Sussex and Bromley, where the company was previously based, officers traced a total of 17 victims who were still waiting for the return of their deposits after returning a hired vehicle.
Richard Strawson, East Sussex Trading Standards team manager, said: “This result sends a clear message to others that crime doesn’t pay in East Sussex. Goodwin was well aware his company was misleading customers having been warned by East Sussex and Bromley Trading Standards and having a complaint against an advert being upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority.
“There was absolutely no excuse why systems were not put in place to ensure deposits were returned to customers within the promised 21 days.”
Mr Strawson added: “This was an extremely involved and protracted case which, had it gone to trial, would have involved witnesses from across the globe giving evidence via video link. We are pleased with the result and delighted that the £9,000 withheld from customers has now been returned.
“We will always try and work with businesses to ensure they are operating within the law but hope that this case sends a clear warning that, if they continue to flout regulations, we will take legal action. The consequences will be even more serious if Goodwin does not trade within the law in the future.”
Sentencing, HHJ Mooney considered disqualifying Goodwin from being a company director but did not ultimately impose it due to the fact that it would lead to other staff at Car Hire UK losing their jobs: “They should not suffer for your behaviour,” the Judge said.
“You have admitted that you mislead customers by not returning their deposits, you presided over a culture that involved wrongly retaining deposits.”
Having repaid the outstanding £9,000 and been sentenced to the 12-month community order, Goodwin was ordered to pay £14,000 towards prosecution costs within 12 months.