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NTU Research supports call for licensing of UK hand car washes

Research conducted by members of The Work, Informalisation and Place research group (WIP) at NTU has informed a call for the tighter regulation of UK hand car wash operators

hand car wash

Research conducted by members of the Work, Informalisation and Place research group (WIP) at NTU has informed a call for the tighter regulation of UK hand car wash operators.

WIP are the UK’s leading researchers of informal workplaces such as hand car washes, nail bars and small unit garment manufacturing. Working with the Nottingham Civic Exchange - the only university place-based think tank created to carry out original research designed to influence government policy affecting its region’s population - WIP have been conducting research into hand car washes for a number of years. They provide bespoke advice and briefings to law enforcement bodies, HMRC and the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority.

WIP (a multi-disciplinary research group combining expertise from NTU's School of Social Science and Nottingham Business School) have recently undertaken detailed regional and national research on the location of hand car washes, mapping 20% of England’s neighbourhoods. This has resulted in the creation of a risk index for worker, working environment and physical characteristics and a predictive map of those districts and locations where hand car washes are likely to set up, which has been shared with key partners to support their work to investigate and understand the sector.

In his recent speech to the Resolution Foundation think-tank, the Director of Labour Market Enforcement, Matthew Taylor, called for tighter implementation of regulations on the UK hand car wash sector – a sector in which WIP’s research has uncovered “endemic non-compliance” with worker protection rules, and a number of other serious problems.

Professor Ian Clark from WIP explained in more detail: “Our research has found that many of the workers at these sites are migrants who experience exploitation. They are rarely paid minimum wage and can experience health and safety hazards caused by improper protection from corrosive substances. Some car washes are linked to people trafficking and modern slavery.

Hand Car Washes across Bristol RPM
An example of WIP's mapping developed by Dr James Hunter

“The also have an environmental impact. We found that many hand car washes are located on abandoned spaces and are not connected to the correct foul sewers. In some cases, we found evidence of tarmac being worn away by cleaning chemicals.”

“Our report on these issues has been used to advise the Director of Labour Market Enforcement and we welcome the announcement of tighter regulations; a licence scheme is something we have been advocating for a long time.”

Rich Pickford, WIP researcher, added: “Our research highlights that workers are often paid less than £50 a day for over 8 hours of work in cold and wet weather. In all cases, we identified universal wage theft. This requires immediate government response to ensure that vulnerable workers are supported to make a decent living, we hope Government action is forthcoming.”

“We believe that these businesses need to be regulated. A properly funded and developed licensing scheme administered at a local level can support all hand car wash entrepreneurs to operate legally.”

“The creation of a licensing scheme will compel many to improve their practices and meet many of the most basic requirements that all businesses operating in the UK are required to achieve. Examples from other sectors highlight the way forward for a scheme to support hand car washes to become compliant with labour, environmental and planning regulations.”

“Our engagement with regulators and organisations working in this space has convinced us that voluntary schemes will fail to reach the most problematic businesses in this sector.

Dr James Hunter highlights that “by focusing a licensing scheme at a Local Authority level, we hope that our research can be used to identify sites and support council officers to support businesses to improve their practices.”

Find out more about WIP's earlier research into hand car washesread coverage of the research on here and watch the Interim Director of Labour Market Enforcement highlight our research as a reason for calling for a national licensing scheme on hand car washes.

Nottingham Civic Exchange

Nottingham Civic Exchange has been established by Nottingham Trent University to maximise research, policy and practical impact by bringing together university expertise with partners seeking to address the needs of local communities. Nottingham Civic Exchange acts as a resource to look at social and economic issues in new ways. This means facilitating debate, acting as a bridge between research and policy debates, and developing practical projects at a local, city and regional level.

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NTU Research supports call for licensing of UK hand car washes

Published on 12 February 2020
  • Category: Nottingham Civic Exchange; Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School

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