Mechanic sacked after accusing boss of overcharging: wins £46,000

Sarah Coles
Car with open hood in auto repair shop.
Car with open hood in auto repair shop.

Jason Phur, a 39-year-old garage mechanic from Herne Bay in Kent, has been awarded £46,000 compensation by an employment tribunal. It ruled that he was unfairly sacked by his boss, after blowing the whistle on overcharging practices.

According to the Daily Mirror, he told the tribunal that the garage where he worked carried out unnecessary jobs in order to bump up drivers' bills. So, for example, said he had been told to replace the clutch on a Vauxhall Astra that hadn't actually needed replacing.

Company director Nick Sutton called a staff meeting, where Phur spoke out against this kind of work, and an argument ensued. Three weeks later disciplinary proceedings were brought against him and four days after that he was sacked.

He took the independent Canterbury garage, Volksline, to tribunal. According to the Daily Mail, the tribunal heard from one customer who said he had been overcharged when he took his car in for a service in 2011. Sutton responded by saying Phur had been sacked because he had thrown a chair at him and his work had not been good enough. However, the panel rejected this explanation, calling it 'implausible and inconsistent'. It awarded Phur £46,000.

Sutton and his son run the garage and deny they have ever fitted parts that were not needed. The tribunal highlighted that the claims had not been investigated, and the ruling was not based on whether they were true or not, they were based on the fact that an employee should be able to voice their concerns within the workplace without losing their job.

Your rights at the garage

We cannot know what went on at this garage, but there are instances where people in garages around the country feel short-changed, so it's worth knowing your rights.

If you were quoted for a job, decided to go ahead, and then discovered the same work cost less elsewhere, you don't have a right to complain. When you agree to a written quotation you enter into a contract to pay the agreed price.

If it was an estimate, and you are charged far more than the original estimate, then your rights depend on the situation. If the problem was worse than the garage initially thought or took them longer than they thought, they are within their rights to charge you the full cost as long as it is justifiable.

If, however, the final bill is a great deal more than the initial estimate, or makes the original estimate look unrealistic, then the business may be carrying out unfair commercial practices. If this is the case, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

If you weren't given a quote of any kind, and you are shocked by the bill, check whether this is because they did work you weren't expecting. In this case, consider what you told them at the outset. If you asked them to do whatever was needed in order to repair the car, you gave them permission to do what they thought was needed, and you have to pay for it. If you asked them just to do specific work, then you can refuse to pay more than what was agreed.

Next steps

If you are happy with the work done, but feel you have been charged too much for it, then check with other local garages to see what they charge for this work. If it is substantially lower, the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 means that you're only obliged to pay a 'reasonable price' for the work. You can try to negotiate with the garage to lower the price. If they won't reduce the bill, you can dispute it.

In order to get your car back you may need to pay the bill - however unfair it is - but make clear in writing that it is 'under protest' and keep a copy of the proof you did this.

Next, contact the trade association (if the garage is a member), and they will explain their disputes procedure. If they are not a member, write to the garage with a copy of all the supporting documents you have and explain why you think the bill it too high. At that time you can explain you intend to take them to court. This alone may persuade them to compromise.

If this doesn't elicit a sensible response, you can take them to the small claims court. It's time-consuming, so is only worth doing if you can prove that you didn't ask for the work to be done, or you didn't agree to the price charged, or that the price was unreasonable, or that the work was of poor quality.

Disputing a bill is hard work, so the easiest solution it to protect yourself before they start work. It's always easiest to get a written quotation, and then compare that to other local garages. That way you have set out what work needs to be done, and have a good idea of what you will be asked to pay for it.

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