The consumer watchdog has called for a wider investigation into the car hire sector after Europcar was accused of overcharging customers £30 million for damaging vehicles.
The rental giant faces accusations of systematically overbilling more than 500,000 consumers for repairs over a decade after trading standards began a probe last month into allegations of “fraudulent” charging.
The Serious Fraud Office is reported to be preparing to start a criminal inquiry after the Daily Telegraph reported potentially fraudulent charges for windscreens and other repairs which were inflated by up to 300%.
Consumer group Which? called for the car hire industry to be probed to see if other firms could be profiting from illegal charging tactics.
Europcar UK said: “On the basis of our own preliminary review, our view is that the implications of the investigation will be somewhere in the region of £30 million and we will communicate as appropriate as matters develop.”
The company added: “We are fully co-operating with the authorities.”
Europcar is accused of making secret deals with garages in the UK that would invoice customers a higher amount for repairs than they charged the company.
The brand operates in 140 countries worldwide but it is not clear whether it overseas offices operate the same practices as in the UK.
Which? home products and services director Alex Neill said: “There should be an immediate investigation to ensure other aren’t doing this and customers who have been left out of pocket are compensated without delay.”
A spokesman for the SFO said that it did not confirm or deny whether it was investigating cases.
A spokesman for Leicester Trading Standards, which is conducting the investigation, said: “it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage as it is an ongoing investigation.”