I just saw the biggest load of nonsense on a web forum. Someone has made the statement that independent instructors charge more than those who are franchised to a school, and that independents don’t offer block booking discounts, whereas the schools do. Others have added that this is because independent instructors are “more experienced” and “better qualified”.
Regular readers will know that I am strongly pro-franchise when it comes to advising those who are just starting out about which path to take. I’m also pro-fact, so let’s see if we can find some.
It has been reported in the driver training media several times before that independent instructors typically charge at least £1 per hour less than the large national schools do. AutoExpress referred to it in 2017, and nothing has changed. Indeed, if I Google for driving lesson prices right now in the Nottingham area, I find the following examples from independent instructors (other than me):
- £28 per hour, £26 per hour for 10x block, introductory offer £10 per hour for 4x block
- £25 per hour, £23 per hour for 10x block
- £26 per hour, £25.50 per hour for 10x block
- £27 per hour, £25 per hour for 10x block
- £22 per hour, but also offers student discount
- £25 per hour, £24 per hour for 10x block
- £27 per hour, £26 per hour for 10x block, £25 per hour student rate
- £25 per hour, £24 per hour for 10x block, introductory offer £14 per hour for 4x block
Remember that at least half of pupils will likely be taking the block booking option, so the actual rate being charged is about half way (at best) between the standard hourly rate and the pro rata rate for block booking. It will be lower if a lot of students are on the books and a student discount is offered. And for those who make “introductory” offers, it will be lower still. And although these figures are specific to Nottingham, the same relationship between standard rate and actual rate applies across the country.
Take that first (and last) example. Charging £28 an hour means you must be £1 an hour more brilliant than the national schools according to that original comment, and that’s definitely worth boasting about on the forums. Except that a pupil who takes, let’s say, 34 hours to pass their test will pay for three block bookings and that introductory offer. The average hourly rate paid by that pupil is therefore £24.12 per hour, and that’s £3 less than the big national schools! The last example works out to £22.82 per hour on the same basis, which is more than £4 less. This is simple maths, but the people who make these silly claims haven’t got a clue, and they believe what they say. They genuinely believe that someone who buys a block with a 10% discount is actually paying full price!
These easily-obtained examples (I just picked the first few from a list of hundreds) show that the real lesson price – the one they actually pocket – for independents is at least £1 lower than the large national schools, even for those with the highest stated standard hourly rates. Yes, there are one or two who appear to have high prices and no substantial discounts, but I note that they also have glittery, sign-written cars plastered across expensive-looking websites. That’s strange, since I never see them out on the roads or at the test centres, and after another 12 months probably won’t even see them on the internet – though right now they’re probably making daft claims on forums about how great they are. Because that’s how the cycle goes. And yet some ADIs still believe that they are charging top dollar, even though they’re not.
The other thing is that these instructors have been foolish enough to put themselves at the mercy of the Google review system, most likely because they initially saw it as a free advertising medium. So in spite of their alleged outstanding “experience and expertise” – as claimed on that forum – many of them have a rating of three stars or less, often from a single review by someone they pissed off – probably as a result of doing what many instructors specialise in doing no matter what they have written on the sides of their cars. Namely, letting someone down. And that means they aren’t any better or more professional than anyone else.
So, there we have some facts. On average, independent instructors do not charge more than the national schools. They actually charge less. They most certainly do offer a bewildering array of discounts. And there is absolutely no evidence that they have better skills, qualifications, or professionalism – we all pass the same tests, after all.
For the record, my current lesson rate is £26.50 per hour (£1 less than the national school rate here), and I discount it to £24.50 per hour for block bookings of ten hours. I have a full diary, about half of which is taken by block-booked lessons. Someone who didn’t have the work might well be tempted to start making offers that attracted some, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if they then convince themselves that they’re still charging the full price, when they’re really discounting by almost 10%, they’re going to be looking for salaried employment again very soon.
A lot of people are finding this article based on the search term “UKCPS scam”. I’m seeing another surge close to Christmas 2018, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. My experience most definitely WAS in a UKCPS car park, so read on and don’t be put off by the fact I didn’t identify it as such in the title – at the time I had no idea UKCPS were such cowboys.
After seeing this story in the newsfeeds I thought I’d mention something that happened to me in late 2013. In fact, I mentioned it in this article back in January of 2014, but there’s a bit of a follow up.
In December 2013, I went to see Status Quo at the new Leeds Arena. I picked up my mate (let’s call him Bob) from his house just outside Leeds and we drove into the City Centre. Bob directed me to the Edward Street car park not far away from the Arena and we parked there. This car park has ANPR cameras that detect your registration number as you drive in, and you have to enter your registration into the ticket machine – if it doesn’t match what the ANPR system picked up you apparently don’t get a ticket. I paid using my debit card (which turned out to be a wise move). There was only one price available at the time from the machine – the £8.50 overnight charge – in spite of a list of hourly tariffs being shown on signs. We arrived at shortly before 6pm and drove out at just after 11pm, where ANPR cameras apparently once again log your exit.
As we walked to the Arena, Bob told me that a few weeks earlier his wife (let’s call her Sarah) had been Christmas shopping and parked in that same car park. A few days later she was stung with a fine for “insufficient fee paid”. Now, Sarah isn’t the kind of person to take things lying down, and in any case she’d kept the receipts proving that she had paid the correct amount. She kicked up a stink and they dropped the charge. It was normal chit-chat, and I didn’t think much of it after that.
I lease my school car and the arrangement is that any traffic fines are automatically paid by the lease agent (most lease companies operate this way, I believe) if an infringement is submitted to them. This avoids the fine escalation if you don’t pay within 14 days. Anyway, in January I got a letter from my lease company informing me that they had paid a fine submitted by UKCPS (United Kingdom Car Parking Solutions). I was spitting feathers (this is another one of the things that can create stress in this job) because I hadn’t done anything wrong.
I immediately wrote an appeal to UKCPS. I also wrote to Leeds City Council, because I didn’t realise at the time that the car park in question was a private one, but all this did was teach me what a bunch of dickheads work there. The Council told me it wasn’t their problem (it seems Leeds has a similar bunch of morons in charge that Nottingham does). I pointed out in my letter to UKCPS that they KNEW I had entered the car park, they KNEW I had left it, and they KNEW how much I had paid. Furthermore, since I’d paid by debit card, my bank statement was proof of how much I’d paid. There was no reply after 20 days. I wrote a further harshly-worded letter demanding a response from them within 14 days, which was not forthcoming. I then phoned them on the number that says not to use it for claims, and they said immediately that they’d refund it. I never had to provide proof of the amount I’d paid, and I eventually got my money back in February.
I stress again that UKCPS KNEW I had paid the right amount. Their ANPR system and ticket machine would tell them that clearly. And they asked for no proof when I phoned them, which suggests they were well aware of enough information – either from my letters that they’d ignored, or via said systems – to immediately admit they were wrong. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out what they were up to, particularly when you consider they’d tried the exact same thing with Bob’s wife. I’m updating this at Christmas 2018, which is further evidence: they try this same scam every year.
In fact, if you Google “UKCPS insufficient fee” – which I did when I appealed – you find that the same scam has been pulled on hundreds, if not thousands, of other innocent members of the public. Take a look at this single link – particularly the reviews on the left hand side, where 16 out of 17 reviewers have had the same scam pulled on them and most appear to have coughed up! The hits that Google throws up are mainly the ones where people have actually tried to do something about it. It’s anyone’s guess how many others have blindly paid up thinking they made a mistake. UKCPS is cashing in on the fact that it knows a significant number of people won’t appeal. So they’re either scam artists, or are so incompetent that they make a lot of “mistakes”.
UKCPS are the sort of vermin who, until the Law changed making it illegal, would have happily clamped everyone who parked in their car park. The Law now needs to change to put these thieving parasites out of business for good. You will note that their (crap and amateurish) website graphics imply that they manage car parking for Tesco, Harveys, and Boots, since these are featured.
And Leeds City Council needs a good slap to remind it that it cannot just shake off all responsibility for cowboy operators in their City.
More recently (mid-2016) I had a run of hits on this story. I did a bit more reading and it would appear that UKCPS is becoming less likely to accept an appeal on the first contact. Perhaps their owner – who is still not behind bars where he belongs, based on the false charges his scumbag company has brought against innocent people – is worried that his profits are not increasing as much as he’d like, so he’s ordered the parasites who work for him to put up a defence.
Don’t be put off. UKCPS’ false charge scheme IS a scam, sanctioned by the city councils who allow UKCPS to operate within their boundaries.
If you know you were not guilty, don’t pay – and argue like mad. Often, and hard. Just don’t ignore the charge notice.
Is UKCPS a scam parking operator?
Well, me and my mate’s wife have direct experience of the kind of things they get up to. But take a look at these links:
These are a tiny sample. Try Googling for “UKCPS parking scam” or “UKCPS Ltd parking ticket” and see what you get. There are hundreds and hundreds of people like you who these cretins are trying to intimidate (including disabled people parking in disabled bays that these gutter trash operate). That Responsive link sums it up nicely by pointing out that UKCPS usually backs down at the first appeal – and that’s because they know that they can make money from those who don’t appeal. You don’t need to be a genius to work out if it’s a scam or not.
Are UKCPS fines legitimate?
There is no straight answer to this. In my opinion, they are not – and that explains why anyone appealing to UKCPS, and making sure the appeal is heard (i.e. don’t let them just ignore you) appears to get the fine refunded or overturned rather easily.
UKCPS are scammers, that’s for sure. They seem to operate on the principle that if they issue 100 bogus fines, only a small minority of people are likely to complain and see the complaint through. Even if only one person out of that hundred didn’t appeal, they’re making money. But I suspect that more like 80% of people simply pay up and leave it at that.
If someone ever had the desire and the money to take them to court, I think we’d find out rather quickly just how legitimate these cowboys are.
Should I just ignore the fine?
No, don’t do that. By all means, withhold payment while you contest it, but don’t just ignore it. These scammers walk a very fine line between being legal and illegal, and they know full well what they’re doing. If you ignore it, they’ll likely pass it over to debt collectors, and the amount you owe will go up by hundreds of pounds (you must have seen the Bailiffs programmes on TV).
Just fight the putrid parasites on their own terms.
Is UKCPS a legitimate company?
Unfortunately, yes. There is a big question mark over the legality of their business practices, however. There is a also a big question mark over the role of councils such as Leeds City Council, who are effectively authorising this illegal behaviour – presumably because UKCPS pays them money in order to keep operating. The list of
scumbags directors who operate UKCPS are given as:
- Ms Helen Claire Hilton
- Ms Lorraine Doyle
- Mr Gary Deegan (twice)
- Mr Michael Bullock
I’ve been to a lot of gigs the last few years, though I haven’t posted any articles about them. I need to do a bit of catching up on that.
Anyway, I went to a brilliant show on Friday at Rock City in Nottingham. After Rush, my favourite genres have to be blues and Southern rock – both of which seem to be very popular these days, and Planet Rock covers them a lot. That was how I came to know bands like Blackberry Smoke, The Cadillac Three, and Brothers Osborne.
In fact, I saw The Cadillacs a couple of months ago (hell, it was a year ago!), and Brothers Osborne were supporting them. So, Osbornes announced a headlining tour of their own, I got tickets.
Take a listen to this. They played one of my favourite songs, Copperhead Road, originally written by Steve Earle. They nailed it completely.
It came out of the blue, but I recognised it after the first few drum stomps, just as the mandolin came in.
I have to say that it was easily the best gig I’ve been to in a long time. The crowd was well up for it, and every song was worth listening to. Lots of slide guitar, keyboards, banjos, and mandolins – and extended solos. Although officially a duo, they had an admirable backing band, to whom they gave generous room to perform – the backing guitarist in particular, who I believe is called Jason Graumlich.
The encore seemed unusually long – I haven’t listened to the full recording yet, but there must have been five or more songs. Most bands don’t go above three. But it didn’t matter. It could have gone on for another hour and still been great.
The band seemed awed by the reception. T J Osborne (lead vocals) said that they’d been over here a few times, and if people kept coming to the gigs like this, they’d keep coming back. I’ll certainly be there when they do.
The only slight stain on the night was of our own making – well, my mate’s. That was due to his desire to drink the better beer in the Rescue Rooms instead of the weasel piss you get in the Main Hall. OK, I can relate to that, but it meant we ended up missing all but the last song and a half by the support act, Lucie Silvas. She’s got one hell of a voice, and she went straight on my watch list for her next tour.
I got my own back in the Indian restaurant after, though, where we had the usual decent curry and an argument about Brexit (which I won, as always).
Incidentally, Brothers Osborne performed at Rockstock over the weekend, and they were interviewed by Darren Redick.
This has made my day. Excellent story on the BBC about how the Met Police are ending chases involving scumbags on motor scooters. Look at their response when they get rammed. No attempt to run off, just shitting themselves. Well done to the Met!
All we need now is for the policy to be extended to everywhere else in the country, and maybe – just maybe – these little pricks might start to wonder if it’s really worth it.
Mind you, if I was going to put any money on it, I suspect the Met will come under pressure to stop doing it, especially if one of the little darlings gets hurt.
Well, that didn’t take long. Less than two hours after that first story, the BBC is now reporting that the Met is under investigation by the IOPC for “three cases involving ‘tactical contact’”.
The IOPC says that one case involves a 17-year old who sustained head injuries in Bexley a year ago. It serves him f***ing right.
Let’s hope the IOPC comes to the same conclusion, and tells him and/or his idiot parents where to go.
This made me smile. An 18-year old kid in Germany passed his driving test, then got caught by police with a radar gun doing 60mph in a 30mph zone on his way home (with four of his mates in the car). This happened 49 minutes after his test pass.
He’s got an automatic four-week ban, and will have to take further “expensive” training. He also got two points on his licence, a €200 fine, and his two-year new-driver probationary period has been extended to four.
Plus ça change, eh?
An email alert from DVSA advises that they are introducing 23 new CGI clips to the Theory Test, which feature adverse weather and lighting conditions.
These are effective immediately for car tests, and will be introduced for the other tests at a later date.
I would assume that the various apps will also include test samples in the near future.
If you follow the link in that email, you can see samples of the clips. I think they look excellent – although I’m not sure I would drive quite so fast as that car in the snow clip is doing (you’d definitely skid in those conditions if you braked hard for a deer).
My only other comment is that I wish we got snow like that when it does snow. My experience is more on the lines of horrible slushy stuff that leaves black crap all over your car. Those clips are very realistic otherwise, though.
This post from 2013, but an update is long overdue.
Unless they already have an app, I advise all my pupils that the only thing they need to buy to prepare for their Theory Test is Driving Test Success 4-in1, published by Focus Multimedia (DTS). It is available for both Android and iPhone, and costs £4.99 at the time of writing. Sure, they can buy a book if they want, or use any other service of their choice, but this is the one I recommend.
For many years, DTS was available as a DVD, and I used to bulk buy them from an ADI supply company and sell them on to my pupils at cost (which was much less than the retail price). However, the days of the DVD are behind us and phone apps are almost universal. I’m not sure if they still do a DVD version.
I’m sticking my neck out here, but you can only realistically get access to the entire official revision question bank by paying someone some money – especially if you want a polished and reliable interface. Free apps might contain only a sample of questions from the full bank, or they don’t include the correct up-to-date questions (someone might be using the old question bank). DTS contains every official DVSA practise question in a clean interface, and it also comes with 85 Hazard perception Test (HPT) clips, including the excellent CGI ones. You also get an electronic copy of the Highway Code, and a Road Signs app.
The Theory Test app also has a voiceover feature, and it will read the questions and possible answers out loud to you. Remember that you can choose this option on your actual Theory Test if you need it, so it is a useful feature.
But there is a free version
Yes, and it only contains a small sample of questions and no HPT. Try it, by all means. But don’t think that you will pass if you just run through it a few times. It’s only £4.99 for the full app and HPT clips, so stop pissing around and buy it. The Theory Test costs £23, so risking failing it needlessly is false economy.
This is a true story. Not that long ago I had a pupil who I’d advised to download DTS. He failed his Theory Test several times, and after each one I was asking him how he was doing when he used the app. He assured me he was getting 100% in every test. After the next fail – and I can’t remember how many he had taken up to that point – I remember asking what app he was using. He told me it was DTS, but I asked how much he had paid for it. He replied “nothing. It was free”. I could have killed him – he was getting 100% by being asked the same ten or so questions every time!
Does DTS do voiceover?
Yes. You enable it in the settings, make sure your phone’s media volume is turned on/up, and it will then read out each question and answer automatically as you do tests on it. You can ask it to repeat as necessary.
I saw it on the TV earlier today. It’s another JML one (remember PediPaws and the Turbo Brush?) This time, it’s for Hollywood Pants – a lower-body garment that appears to be capable of the equivalent of turning a hippopotamus into a cheetah without the need for liposuction.
Take a look at the TV ad above. Now, I am a scientist by training, and I am aware of the Law of Conservation of Mass. Essentially, this says that matter can be neither created nor destroyed, but it can be rearranged. So my question is this.
When those women put those pants on, where does the fat actually go? Because it’s not inside the pants, that’s for sure.
A DVSA email alert advises that DVSA is running a trial where they will send text messages to candidates in the run up to their tests offering advice on how to be prepared, not to take their test before they’re ready, and how to stay safe once they’ve passed. The trial will run between now and March 2019.
Not all candidates will receive the texts, as it is a trial. Instructors are advised to reassure pupils who receive such messages that there is no cause for concern. Also, instructors who book tests on their pupils’ behalf might receive the messages instead. I stress again, it is a trial.
Now, there are two ways this can go out here in Instructor Land. One, on my side of the tracks, it seems like a reasonable idea which can’t do any harm, and which in no way interferes with my job. Or two, on the side where all the smack head anarchists live, it is obviously a DVSA conspiracy whose only purpose is to spy on ADIs and deliberately poke their noses into our job.
Let’s see what happens.
I originally posted this article in October 2015, shortly after I started using PayPal Here to take card payments from pupils. Before then, I’d been using iZettle, but I had an unfortunate experience with them which forced me to find an alternative. Basically, iZettle updated their app and it wouldn’t install on my phone. When I contacted them, they basically told me my phone wasn’t supported – even though it had been up until then. They nearly destroyed my business overnight, and effectively told me “tough”. I was not happy. They came back to me sometime later and apologised for their error – apparently, the app had been given an incorrect filename on Google Play, and that was the cause of the problem – and gave me almost £1,000 of free transactions – but it was too late. In the two weeks it took for them to admit their mistake, I had purchased and started using a PayPal Here card reader.
I’d considered PayPal Here even before iZettle. But at that time, PayPal Here was brand new, and staff were even more inept than iZettle’s, and more or less told me any money I took wouldn’t be accessible to me for 30 days because of a “reserve” that existed on the account I’d set up. I wrote about that at the time. PayPal was easily the better option on paper, but not having access to my money was obviously a major issue, so I went with iZettle.
To this day, I have no idea what the hell was going on with that “reserve” malarkey, but when iZettle went titsup I contacted PayPal again, and in the intervening time they appeared to have recruited people who knew what they were doing and actually wanted to do it for me.
So, anyway. Armed with a new PayPal Here reader and a reserve-free PayPal account in 2015, I set to work.
Since then, I have taken more than £50,000 in card payments through PayPal Here (I’d also taken a fair bit through iZettle before that). As time has gone by, the number of people paying me by card has increased, and right now I’d say that about 70-80% of pupils pay that way (2018 card takings look like being about 30% higher than in 2017). The rest still use cash (someone block-booked 30 hours of lessons a couple of weeks ago and paid me £700 in notes, which I banked, because it isn’t mine yet), a few use bank transfers (a couple of months ago a new pupil’s father paid me £700 for a block booking this way), and a couple have routinely paid using contactless apps on their phones. I refuse to take cheques – if someone has a cheque book, they have a card, and I can read that instead.
The PayPal Here reader can carry out transactions via contactless, PIN, and swipe (though swipe is not necessary in the UK). Single hour lessons can be paid by contactless (if pupils have them) but anything above £30 has to be by PIN (contactless phone apps depend on the app they’re using, and one pupil easily paid for £50 two-hour lessons contactless this way).
Since I began using it, PayPal has updated the app several times, and it is extremely convenient being able to sign in using my fingerprint these days.
The massive benefit of PayPal over iZettle is that the money from a transaction goes into your PayPal account instantly. When you transfer it from there to your bank account, for all practical purposes that is instant, too (it says it can take “up to 2 hours”, but less than a minute is typical). With iZettle, it took nearly a week – and we’re talking a business week here, so Bank Holidays both here and in Sweden mattered – for money to get into your bank account.
How long do PayPal Here payments take to clear?
For all practical purposes, they’re instant.
When you take a card payment either by chip & PIN or contactless, funds are instantly transferred to your PayPal Here account. You can leave them there, or transfer them to your bank account whenever it suits you – either from the app or from PayPal on your computer.
My only minor gripe is that you have to transfer the money manually – you can’t set it to go straight into your bank account. It’s on my wish list.
How much does the card machine cost?
At the moment (2018), a PayPal Here card reader costs £54.00. They have special offers from time to time, where the machines are cheaper than this, and my backup was purchased when an offer was in place.
How much do they charge per transaction?
It’s 2.75%. For each £25 lesson paid for by card, you “lose” 69p.
Other card reader vendors have lower fees
I’m not saying you must use PayPal. Just be aware that other vendors’ fees are often on a sliding scale (iZettle’s was), and you only get the lower rates if you take more than a certain amount per month – which for an ADI is often quite high. I triggered iZettle’s lower rate fees a couple of times, but the lower rate only applies to takings above the threshold.
For example, if there is a threshold at takings of £5,000 per month, and you pay 2.75% up to that, and 2.5% above it, then if you take £5,500 in that month, you pay 2.75% on £5,000, and 2.5% on £500. To get any real benefit, you’d need to be taking £10,000 per month or more. Small multi-car driving schools might benefit, but a self-employed ADI wouldn’t.
The charges are a rip off
Fine. Keep taking cash.
You’re not going to get away from transaction charges. A fee of 69p is nothing on a £25 bill. All you have to do is increase your prices slightly and you’ve covered the fee, anyway.
But I can save money if I don’t have to pay transaction fees
As I say. Fine. Keep taking cash. You probably also believe your car isn’t an overhead because you own it (it is), and that if you don’t have to pay a franchiser then you’re better off by the whole franchise fee (you’re not). A card fee is an overhead, that’s all.
I can’t see the point of taking card payments
Fine. Keep taking cash. It does tend to be the older ADI who thinks this way, though.
For me, from the day I first became an instructor, the ability to take card payments was on my wish list. As years went by, having to carry lots of cash around (sometimes, a heck of a lot) and make frequent trips to the bank was becoming a major headache. Bank branches – especially convenient local ones – are an increasingly endangered species, and with parking and lost lesson time, and cheques (some weeks, every pupil would pay by cheque), it was more like an atomic migraine than a headache. There is a business cost associated with that, which is proportional to how often you have to go to pay money in. With cheques especially, I’d only have a cash flow if I went to the bank, since £1,000 of cheques in your wallet is pretty useless. I’d been waiting for something like PayPal Here or iZettle – and there are others – to appear, and got in on the ground floor.
Is it of any benefit to take card payments?
As I said, it has saved me a lot – in monetary terms, and in terms of my sanity.
But another benefit is less tangible. Some pupils might be impressed if you pull out an iPad and have a glitzy demonstration video to get some point across. Believe me, many more are impressed when you tell them you can take card payments – even more so when you actually take a card payment from them. This might become less true in the future as the dinosaurs gradually die out, but right now it works in a highly positive way.