Britain’s competition authorities have for the first time taken cross-border action against Spanish car hire firms, after widespread complaints about misleading practices.

Two large hire firms operating in Spain, Centauro and Record Go, have been ordered by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to change the way they tell customers about charges. Goldcar, another big player in the Spanish holiday car market, has also been brought under a separate enforcement regime that applies to the big five car hire companies in Europe, after its recent acquisition by Europcar.

The CMA said it took action against Centauro and Record Go “following concerns that UK holidaymakers were being misled by their practices”. It said Centauro Rent-A-Car and Record Go have agreed to improve the way they display information on their websites, ensuring they include all compulsory charges upfront. Neither Centauro nor Record Go admitted any wrongdoing or liability in agreeing to make changes.

Benidorm-based Centauro operates a fleet of 22,000 cars across Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy. Record Go has 10,000 vehicles based largely around Málaga and the Balearic islands. Both firms have been approached by the Guardian for comment.

The CMA’s action is highly unusual as British regulators are rarely able to take significant action against firms based overseas. But it coordinated cross-European action with officials at the European commission.

Věra Jourová, the commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: “Thanks to our pressure, there will be no more unpleasant surprises at the checkout desk when you’re renting your car. It’s really frustrating to start your holidays by having to pay unplanned extra costs and read complicated contracts. I want European consumers to enjoy their holidays to the maximum without having to worry about nasty surprises with final bills.”

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George Lusty, the senior director for consumer protection at the CMA, added: “If a firm sells to UK customers, they do so under UK law and must answer to it. We are prepared to act if we find any that any company is misleading UK customers – be it based in the UK or abroad.”

The CMA estimated it had saved UK consumers about £100m since it began taking enforcement actions against car hire firms in 2015. It investigated practices among the biggest providers – Avis Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, Sixt and Europcar. It said it was satisfied the companies were making the necessary changes to ensure key information was displayed clearly and prominently.



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