Hand car washes in Slough will become the first in the country to sign up to a new government initiative - the Responsible Car Wash Scheme.
Car washes which pay employees a fair wage, have the correct planning permissions and insurances, and pay business rates among other criteria, will be accredited as part of the scheme.
Customers wanting their car cleaned and valeted are being urged to use accredited premises so they have a clear conscience when handing over cash.
Workers at hand car washes are at risk of exploitation with low wages as well as poor and unhygienic working conditions.
Some operate from unsuitable locations which could lead to pollution with discharge ending up in water courses.
The scheme aims to raise standards in hand car wash businesses across Slough, as well as create a level playing field, to create fair washes for businesses, their employees, and to protect the environment and the consumer.
The Responsible Car Wash Scheme is an initiative by the Home Office in conjunction with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. Businesses complying with labour, environmental and planning laws will be able to display accreditation indicating they are a trusted provider.
Premises in the borough are this week being visited by staff from the scheme, the council’s trading standards and planning officers and Thames Valley Police.
The council and scheme partnership is offering an initial period of membership for free to encourage those who obey the rules to get on board. In the future the cost to the business will be £250.
Councillor Mohammed Nazir, lead member for housing and community safety, said: “A car wash and valet which costs just a few pounds may feel good for our pockets but this could be funding a business not acting in the best interests of their employees or within the law.
“Cars cost a lot of money and spending just a few more pounds at a car wash is worth it.
“It means it has been assessed as operating to good standards, helping other businesses in the borough compete on a level playing field as well as making sure workers are being paid fairly.”
Councillor Pavitar K. Mann, lead member for planning and regulation, said: “The old adage is if it’s too good to be true then maybe it is.
“Not only does this scheme give equity to employees but also businesses, separating those which are doing their best to adhere to the law and the others which undercut and potentially attract more trade.”
Teresa Sayers, managing director of the Responsible Car Wash Scheme, said: “With car washes now reopening after lockdown, risks are resurfacing with regards to violation of labour, employment, health and safety and environmental regulations.
“The scheme aims to ensure compliance, improve standards, and give consumers confidence they are choosing a fair car wash, by accrediting businesses that adhere to a Code of Practice.
“With Home Office backing and an independent evaluation, this has the impetus it needs to work on a nationwide level.”
The pilot will be independently evaluated by Nottingham Trent University which has also helped create the scheme criteria.
It is envisaged the scheme will be rolled out to the rest of the country if successful and the licence will become mandatory.
Ian Clark, professor of work and employment at Nottingham and Trent University, said: “Our research into hand car washes has shown widespread non-compliance which has far reaching implications for workers and the environment.
“The government recognises that an accreditation scheme designed to promote compliance and drive up standards for hand car washes can play a role in preventing exploitation of workers and water pollution in this sector.
“Our role is to explore the efficacy of the RCWS trial and test this as a workable system to implement mandatory licensing on a national level.”
More information about the scheme is here – https://rcws.org.uk/