News item

Enfield trading standards prosecute fraudulent traders

Two fraudsters who sold dodgy HGV training schemes to unsuspecting members of the public have been jailed after being prosecuted by Enfield Trading Standards.

Hardeep Singh Bharya, 28, of Roseville Road, Hayes, and a second man, who ran Fast Track HGV Limited denied but were found guilty of Fraudulent Trading contrary to section 993 of the Companies Act 2006 at Wood Green Crown Court on Friday 13 December.

The duo conned people who wanted to gain employment as HGV drivers with a string of broken promises while pocketing more than £1,000 from each applicant.

Singh Bharya, the director of Fast Track was sentenced to three years and six months in prison while the second man was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment.

Enfield Council’s Trading Standards team investigated the company after receiving complaints and ultimately more than 200 customers complained to the local authority. The borough’s legal team then took on the prosecution.

The people affected typically purchased courses priced between £1,000-3,000. Consumers were often unemployed, recently made redundant, or new immigrants to the UK looking for work - those who could least afford to lose significant sums of money and those lacking the skills to retrieve their cash. 

Enfield Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Chris Bond, said: “These charlatans conned money out of people who were desperate for a job and who were in many cases unable to claim their money back after realising they had been taken for a ride.

“Enfield Council will not tolerate shady business practices in this borough and I am delighted these con men have been severely punished for lining their pockets at the expense of unemployed people looking to do the right thing and get a job to support themselves and their families.

Enfield Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Property, Cllr Andrew Stafford said: “It is frankly unacceptable that people seeking to make a positive contribution to society should be targeted and robbed blind by unethical traders whose only interest is making a quick buck.”

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the National Trading Standards Board, said: "Enfield Council’s successful prosecution of Fast Track demonstrates how trading standards teams frequently deal with complaints from people all over the country when clamping down on disreputable traders and conmen in their areas. 

“Conmen and fraudsters need to know that trading standards teams up and down the country are working tirelessly to track down and bring to justice those businesses and individuals who make a profit out of misleading and lying to residents.” 

The court heard that the pair, operating the business in Mount Pleasant, Cockfosters, persuaded people to sign contracts for HGV training by misleading them about the location, price and content of the course and then spent the proceeds.

The company offered HGV and PCV driver training courses nationwide advertising via Google on the internet; however consumers were first required to complete their medical and hazard perception and theory tests. This led to the company holding onto and spending monies paid in advance by consumers.  

The training was either partially completed or not at all and many customers waited for several months before they started practical training. They were often told they would have to travel to Enfield to train, after being told they could train locally at a Fast Track facility. 

Other misleading statements included the claims that Fast Track was a Driving Standards Agency (DSA) approved training school and also unauthorized credit and debit card transactions were processed for courses which had not been agreed. 

Fast Track also failed to respond properly to complaints and requests for refunds and caused a loss to credit card processing businesses by encouraging consumers to pursue chargebacks.

Singh Bharya was prosecuted for regulatory offences in January 2011 in relation to the false representations as to the number of vacancies and salaries achievable in the HGV industry. That prosecution was brought by Tower Hamlets Trading Standards in relation to another business Highlife HGV run by Singh Bharya.

Notes for Editors:

Press are advised that reporting restrictions were imposed to ban the identification of the second man (who was sentenced to 16 months in prison, pending a second criminal trial).

This business is involved in the provision of training courses to enable trainees to operate forklift trucks or drive lorries which are known as Large Goods Vehicles (LGV or HGV, Category C), or buses which are known as Passenger Carrying Vehicles (PCV, Category D). 

Driver requirements:

When driving larger vehicles, the maximum authorised mass (total vehicle weight plus the maximum load it can carry) influences the driving licence entitlement needed. 

For example, if the vehicle has a maximum authorised mass (MAM) which exceeds 3.5 tonnes, but not 7.5 tonnes, then a category C1 licence is needed. 

If the MAM exceeds 7.5 tonnes then a category C licence  (also known as Class 2) is needed. Drivers must normally be aged over 21 and hold a full (not provisional) category B entitlement (car) before they can take a:

- Large goods vehicle (LGV) test or a

- Passenger carrying vehicle (PCV) test

To add a trailer entitlement (+E) to their licence, they will need to hold the full category entitlement for the vehicle before they take the trailer test. 

For example, to drive an articulated vehicle, they would need to pass category C (Class 2) , and then pass category C+E (Class 1)to obtain the required licence.

To become a professional driver it is important to have the correct training and instruction before taking the practical test. 

A list of Driving Standards Agency (DSA) approved LGV training organisations and instructors is available on the Business Link website. 

Fast Track is not one of these organisations. 

To obtain a licence to drive a lorry and/or bus candidates will have to pass the following tests/examinations:

1) A medical examination to ensure that they are fit to drive

2) Theory and hazard perception tests 

3) Practical driving test; and 

The Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) This will consist of an initial Driver CPC (there is an exemption for this element for full licence holders prior to 1997) , followed by a periodic Driver CPC requiring drivers to undertake 35 hours of tuition and training over a five year period.

The method of operation of the business:

The business operated a website, consumers viewed the site, or saw an advert on a job seekers site or were recommended to Fast Track HGV. 

The website stated the students could train to drive a HGV in five days, they were a DSA approved training provider and could provide training nationwide, there are 40,000 vacancies nationwide and qualified drivers could expect to earn £550 per week. 

Applicants filled in an online enquiry form and were then contacted by the telesales team, who advised them they could help them from start to finish with a dedicated training advisor and place them in jobs after they passed their test. 

They then stated they had contracts with x, y & z and the candidate could expect to earn even more money if they did a back to back C + E course or ADR course driving petrol tankers. 

Earning potential could be in the region of £42,000. They are also asked if they wished to take out pass protection insurance, this is not a regulated insurance product, but is marketed as a tool to ensure the candidate can be quickly booked into a retest if they failed their first test. 

This would involve further tuition, test fee, lorry, instructor and fuel for £300. If the candidate passed first time they would be refunded £150. They were asked where they lived and advised they could train locally at one of their facilities. 

Usually the consumer agreed to the contract over the phone, they were then sent a starter pack. 

This included the medical application form and any relevant DVLA/DSA forms, login details for the theory and hazard perception test  preparation website, invoice and terms and conditions.

Once the consumer passed their theory and hazard perception tests and medical examination they could telephone Fast Track and book in their four or five day intensive driving course and practical test. 

It was this area of the business which generated the highest level of complaints. At this point the consumer had received approximately £100 worth of service from the business and the remaining £1,300 - £2,700 pounds of practical tuition and test has, in the case of candidates who wished to take a course outside of Enfield, resulted in non-performance of the contract in a number of cases as demonstrated by the statements received. 

Consumers were sent a booking form detailing the locations at which they can take their C, C + E and D tests. Sometimes it was only at this point or after returning this document they learned they could not take the course locally. 

They also learned they did not have a dedicated training advisor and their calls were rarely returned. This is usually more than six weeks after signing a contract and well outside the cooling off period for cancellation.

They may have tried to apply for chargeback with their debit card provider and that chargeback may have been defended by Fast Track in some cases. 

DATE: 17 December 2013