Driving instructors working with AA driving school franchises threaten to cancel pre-authorized debits at the company after insisting they should defer payments and use government income support while it there is no prospect of work. Some instructors say they will end up with “no money” because they do not qualify for state aid.
Under the UK’s current third national lockdown rules, driving instructors have been told they cannot give lessons, in an effort to reduce the number of people from different households mixing together in confined spaces.
The AA, which also owns the BSM brand, offers franchises to driving school instructors who then benefit from working under the banner of a well-known brand, as well as business support including a booking and booking application. student management. Franchisees also have access to workshops and development training.
A franchise with AA costs more than £ 159 per week on a 24-month contract, although professional instructors say their packages can go up to £ 300 per week.
The company froze all franchise fees during the first nationwide coronavirus lockdown in early 2020 and offered a payment deferral program for the second lockdown towards the end of the year, with refunds slated for December and spread over the rest of the franchise agreement.
Many AA and BSM instructors accepted the offer believing there would be no more Covid-related blockages. As a result, the third nationwide lockdown hit these instructors particularly hard, with no income expected until at least mid-February.
“We have decided to stop our withdrawals and now the phone calls are coming in with threats of legal action.”
To compound the problem, the AA and BSM will not forgo payments during the third lockdown, but will offer a new deferral program.
Louise Graham has created a Facebook group ‘AA Instructors THE REAL FORUM‘after being removed from the official group of AA instructors, she says for “expressing an opinion.” AA said Driving.co.uk it was deleted “after posting offensive comments about staff”.
Graham said Driving.co.uk: “Instructors on old contracts with only a four week resignation clause are forced to pay full fees or leave, the AA’s attitude being, ‘OK, fine, goodbye’. Some of the teachers have been with AA for years.
She added, “They basically force instructors to defer fees for maybe months and tie them to contracts for years.”
The AA has stated that this statement is false: “The postponement program is open to all of our instructors. No one is required to continue paying franchise fees now.
Graham attempted to contact Sarah Rees, executive director of AA Driving Schools, but said she was ignored until she commented on Rees’ LinkedIn profile.
“The AA dodged everyone, so we decided to stop our direct debits and now the phone calls are coming in with threats of legal action. “
The AA said: “We dispute this. No contact was received from Louise Graham before her posts on Linkedin. Louise Graham was proactively contacted by the driving school management following its publication.
Since then, Graham and other members of his group have had two Zoom calls with Rees and sent him an email describing what they accept as fair support.
“We offered to pay £ 65 per week, as Bill Plant and the RED driving school had suggested to their instructors, as these are also national driving schools. And they have offered to defer the £ 65 per week for their instructors as well.
“We finally answered that, again after commenting on Sarah Rees’ LinkedIn account, with a firm ‘No’ and telling us to use our government Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (Seiss) grants. Well, some new instructors weren’t eligible for any government support so they literally don’t have the money.
“They just refuse to help and tell us that legal action will be taken against us if we don’t pay or delay.”
The AA told Driving.co.uk: “There were no other comments on Linkedin. We gave the instructors plenty of advice, including part on the SEISS program that exists to help support self-employed workers during the pandemic. Part of the benefit to us of having a deferral program is exactly that they don’t have to use their Seiss to pay the franchise fees. “
Graham says she and others have also received warnings about the issue being highlighted in the media.
Darren Linsey, an AA franchisee who contacted the Sunday Times Driving via Twitter, said the situation “was causing their driving instructors anxiety, depression and financial debt.”
“I don’t think they can get over it”
In a Facebook Live video, Martin Leather of Driving School Development called AA’s attitude “disgusting.”
“When I was an area director in AA, I was proud to be an area director in AA,” he said. “It was a great brand, and I have protected that brand several times.
“But you know, now I don’t think they can get over it.” I think they are opening the door to let other national driving schools take their place. And if they don’t change what they’re doing and what they’re offering right now, that’s absolutely what they deserve.
A spokesperson for the AA Driving School said Driving.co.uk: “We are totally sympathetic and understand that the new foreclosure restrictions have brought many personal and financial challenges to all of our franchisees and we will continue to do everything possible to support the instructors during this difficult time and keep these measures under review. .
“In light of the new lockdown, we are reducing our fees in January and February. This fee reduction is equivalent to a waiver of non-vehicle charges related to the deductible for the period. We also continue to offer franchisees the option of taking a franchise fee payment holiday that they are able to repay, without interest, over the next two years. Our business continues to have significant costs during the pandemic, including rental and associated vehicle costs for our instructor cars.
“Completely removing fees, as we did in the first lockdown, is not a sustainable way to get our business through this new lockdown.”
“We have been working hard to try to find the most sustainable solution for the next two months that supports both the instructors and our business. We will continue to communicate with our teachers and speak to them individually, if they wish, to support them during this time. We will review this in February when we await further guidance from the government on the next steps in the current lockdown.
“In the first lockdown in the spring of last year, we took the fees off entirely for 14 weeks and then offered instructors the option to defer payments on subsequent local lockouts. Without any income, it cost the company millions of pounds.
“Like all businesses, we have had to make decisions in a volatile financial environment, with no knowledge of the impact the virus will have on our lives in the months to come. Total exemption from fees, as we did during the first lockdown, is not a sustainable way to get our business through this new lockdown.
“We will continue to do all we can to support instructors, many of whom are eligible for government self-employed income support payments. There is clearly some hope with the vaccine on the horizon that our industry can get back to normal in the coming months, but the main thing for us right now is to find a way to support our instructors, d ‘in a way that is sustainable for both teachers. and for our driving schools.
NOTE: This article was updated on January 14 following comments from the AA, who disputed some earlier claims and said the deferral program “means no instructor is asked to continue with payments. during locking “.
– If you are interested in this story about AA and BSM driving instructors rebelling against franchise fees, you might like to read the rules for learner drivers during lockdown.
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