Making block bookings seems like a great way to organise driving lessons. Rather than going through the inconvenience of calling up and arranging lessons individually, learners book everything in one go, believing that instructors will deliver the services they’ve paid for.
Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t always happen. In some cases, driving schools fail to deliver the desired lessons, and learners can find themselves out of pocket. The BBC’s Rip Off Britain covered this issue in an October 2022 episode. Paul Miller from Southwest London decided to book twenty lessons upfront for his son with the local instructor firm.
Mr Miller bought the lessons in December 2020 as a gift for his son because he was turning 18 the following month. The total fee was £549, a significant sum of money but, according to the proud parent, still very much worth it to see his son driving. Buying in bulk, Mr Miller was able to save money on the individual price of each lesson but, unfortunately, the family’s experience of the driving school soon deteriorated.
While Mr Miller had intended for his son to start lessons in the spring of 2021, he was not able to get going until June later that year because of various COVID-19-related restrictions and lockdowns. That wasn’t the driving school’s fault, but soon after lessons began, more problems emerged. The instructor repeatedly made excuses for why he was unavailable for appointments, further delaying scheduled lessons.
Mr Miller and his son tried calling and texting the tutor, but he was either unavailable or unwilling to give lessons on the dates and times that they set. Eventually, due to family circumstances, Mr Miller moved to Huddersfield in Yorkshire and his son moved to a different part of London to start his degree course. Due to all the delays associated with his lessons, Mr Miller’s son, also called Paul, was unable to complete his lessons.
Following these changes, Mr Miller wrote to the driving school to tell them what had happened. The family had only managed to access three lessons, he told them, seventeen less than originally booked and, therefore, he wanted a refund or another option for completing the driving lessons. Unfortunately, the company told Mr Miller that the vouchers he purchased in December 2020 had expired in June 2021 and that the family was not entitled to any additional lessons.
Frustrated, Mr Miller got in touch with the BBC’s Rip Off Britain. Broadcasters publicised the actions of the company and eventually agreed to extend the voucher deadline by six months, allowing son Paul to get all his driving lessons. Paul eventually passed, but not before significant intervention from the BBC.
But what actually happened here? Why was Mr Miller out of pocket until he contacted the BBC?
This instance is a clear example of where the school itself can create problems by failing to provide a refund on lessons that were booked and paid for with the central office but then not provided to the purchaser. In other situations, the instructor operates as an independent contractor, albeit with a franchise with the school. In this case, an instructor can take literally thousands of pounds of block booking fees and then disappear. The school does not accept liability for payments as the payments were made to the instructor and the contract subsists between the client and the instructor. This happened to a purchaser of block bookings and was reported in this article in the Guardian newspaper.
To make matters worse it is alleged the school was not entirely clear as to its responsibilities and what the relationship between the various parties was. The Guardian article mentions 70 clients who paid for lessons and then had problems getting those lessons. This was apparently based on one rogue instructor!
Such events should be a warning to anyone considering block bookings. The discounts given on block bookings are very often £1 off per hour. It strikes us as a poor risk/return to get a £1 per hour discount and then need to endure either poor service because lessons are prepaid, or worse still not getting the services whatsoever due to issues with the service provider.
It’s worth remembering that driving schools do not provide block bookings to help clients’ finances. They are done to “lock in” income. This compels people to continue when the service is substandard.
As the best-reviewed driving school in London, we want people to keep their money in their pockets. That’s why we don’t arrange block bookings. We are confident in the quality of our lessons and are happy for you to continually judge our services as you go along. We will never try to get you to commit to long-term services. Learner drivers who come to us can book lessons as and when they need them to ensure availability and avoid wasting money.