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Car hire firm Goldcar angers European consumers

More than 1,500 complaints about car hire firm Goldcar Rental were received by consumer network Le Centre Européen des Consommateurs last year, it has said, ahead of a meeting on the issue this week.

Le Centre Européen des Consommateurs - also known as CEC, or the European Consumer Centre, in English - received the complaints between April 2019 and mid-2019, it said.

Goldcar Rental is a Spanish “low cost” car rental company that has been owned by industry giant Europcar since 2017. Its alleged “spurious practices” have attracted European-wide attention.

Already, in 2016, Goldcar’s Italian branch was ordered to pay a fine of €2 million by the Italian competition authority, Autoritá Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM), due to “disloyal commercial practices”, which were found to be in contravention of the European directive n°2005-29.

The company was found to have used “aggressive” commercial tactics on consumers, including pushing them into paying for expensive extra car insurance.

Goldcar was also suspected of charging consumers for “damage” to hire cars that either did not exist, or was already present on the vehicle before it was hired.

In its report, the AGCM said: “These pressures - defined as ‘psychological terrorism’ practised by employees on the clients that do not take out extra insurance - are compatible with the contents of an ‘internal circular’ sent to the offices of Goldcar Spain, in agencies across the region, concerning the possible ways used to convince clients to accept payment.”

In May this year, Goldcar was also named the "worst car hire company" in a UK Which? survey and accused of using "aggressive sales tactics and criminal flog you car hire insurance". A Twitter account named @Avoid_Goldcar now exists.

So-called "pressure selling" is illegal across the EU.

Complaints about the company have also been heard in France.

Romain Boguet, from French branch of the CEC, CEC France, told Le Figaro newspaper: “Since the beginning of the year, we have received 150-200 complaints.”

Mr Boguet said he had alerted authorities - including the European Commission - over the suspected practices.

Goldcar - headquartered in Alicante, Spain - has so far not responded to the allegations; but general director of Europcar, Caroline Parot, has accepted a meeting to discuss the issue with Mr Boguet, he said.

The meeting is set to take place tomorrow (September 11), with the EEC preparing to receive a representative from Europcar.

Mr Boguet said: “I would like to understand more about what power Europcar has within Goldcar. The workers at the Spanish company are not trained by the parent company. And when there are complaints, Europcar washes its hands [of them] completely.”

This is not the first time that car hire companies have been called out for their practices.

In March last year, the European Commission and European consumer protection authorities announced that the five industry leaders - Avis, Europcar, Entreprise, Hertz and Sixt - had “[been ordered to] change the way in which they present their car hire prices”, to make the cost more transparent to consumers.

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