Recommendations have been made to the government for strict regulation of the hand car wash sector following a parliamentary inquiry.

The PRA and Car Wash Association (CWA) had lobbied strongly for the inquiry into the damage caused by the sector and welcomed its findings.

CWA chairman Brian Madderson said: “The CWA welcomes the detailed and insightful report published today by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which highlights the need to introduce operating licences for hand car washes to prevent exploitation of workers and water pollution.”

Evidence given to the inquiry by the CWA suggested there were 20,000 non-compliant hand car washes operating across the UK. It said many of them were responsible for problems including environmental damage from mishandling trade effluent, widespread disregard of the national minimum wage, modern slavery, human trafficking and tax avoidance. Most other EU countries do not suffer similar problems.

EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Hand car washes are a common sight in our towns and cities. Yet they hide the widespread exploitation of workers through illegally low pay, poor working conditions and in some cases, forced labour. This is unacceptable.

“We were astonished and dismayed to discover that there have only been 14 minimum wage prosecutions since 1999. The Government must target the sector and prosecute exploitative employers. This would send a strong signal that worker exploitation has no place in the UK.

“Regulators seem to turn a blind eye to breaches of planning and environmental regulations at hand car washes. Being labelled as ‘low risk’ must not mean hand car washes are given a permit to pollute. Councils, police and central government must work together to tackle labour and environmental abuses at hand car washes.”

Key recommendations include:

  • government should trial a licensing scheme for hand car washes that brings together all of the major compliance requirements, including on environmental pollution, into a single, more easily enforceable, legal requirement;
  • government should review whether the Modern Slavery Act 2015 could be updated to cover businesses as small as hand car washes; and
  • the Environment Agency should work with immigration, tax recovery and GLAA enforcement to ensure that unannounced inspection of hand car washes are comprehensively investigated for a full range of potential regulatory breaches.

Madderson said: “We are pleased to see the report’s recommendations which include formal licensing of hand car washes and plans to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to cover businesses as small as hand car washes.

“It is vital that we also press the Environmental Agency for better enforcement of pollution control, HMRC for tax evasion and the Home Office for employment regulations.

“It is especially important that landlords hosting hand car washes are held responsible for breaches of regulations, whether these properties are leased to supermarkets or independent operators.

“This EAC report must now be adopted by all Government agencies to ensure the right steps are taken in tackling illegal hand car washes and bringing an end to modern slavery.”