Many unregulated hand car washes (HCWs) are involved in tax evasion, polluting the environment and crime, PRA chairman Brian Madderson has told a committee of MPs.

Giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into HCWs, Madderson said: “It is extraordinary that we are virtually the only EU country where illegal hand car washing has proliferated over the last 10 years to the extent seen across the UK. This must result from the failure of key agencies to enforce their own regulations.”

He said there are now an estimated 12-15,000 HCWs in the UK and 90%-plus are unregulated, adding: “It would help if HMRC were to conduct a study into their whereabouts as their tax evasion is depriving the Exchequer of millions of pounds of revenue every year.”

Madderson said signs of an illegal facility were often visible, explaining: “The trade effluent is often just seen flowing over the concrete or tarmac and onto adjacent main roads...sign of poor housekeeping... signs of poor safety clothing for people who are doing the work and ... it is a cash only environment, and that therefore leads onto a number of likely criminal activities including the sale of illicit drugs on the site, the sale of tobacco, and even in one case prostitution services.”

The committee also heard evidence that hand car wash companies:

• dodge planning permission to operate without a change of use to a hand car wash;

• do not link up to the foul sewer; and

• rarely go to the water authority or environment agency for trade effluent permits.

Madderson told the MPs: “England should introduce the successful General Binding Rules that currently apply to Scotland, where there are far fewer non-compliant hand car washes.

“Adoption of the General Binding Rules procedure would make it much easier for the Environment Agency to go round and start enforcing.”