UK: How To Deal With Car Workshop Space Invaders

Last Updated: 1 July 2015
Article by Nigel Adams

If you are you running out of space in your workshop because you are storing too much of your customers' unwanted property, read on to find out what you can do to solve the problem!

After a successful restoration or rebuild a customer might well ask you to hang on to some of the old replaced parts for them, just in case they may become useful sometime in future.  If you have agreed to these requests more often than you should, then after a while these "space invaders" might begin to cause a problem for you. The issue is not just one of a lack of space, but the impact on your business financially. Too much clutter means less space for profitable work to be carried out.  In addition, you will find yourself acting as an unpaid storage facility for your customers, who would much rather you look after their clutter than have to deal with it themselves.

If you have an agreement with your client which allows you to charge for storage and you apply such charges to any request to hang on to spare parts, then you might not have such a problem – you will be earning something for your trouble and requests for free storage will be deterred.  If you do not have such an agreement with your customers you might want to review your terms and conditions to insert something suitable.

In any event, the law does provide some help.

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 provides a means by which you can impose an obligation on your customers to collect their property, failing which you can take steps to sell the items.  In practical terms, selling your customers' property is in most cases going to be a last resort, but the threat of a sale will hopefully spur your customers to come and take their property away. The guidance below applies to property held in storage only. If you are holding a customer's property because you have not been paid, then different rules apply, the main one being that if there is a dispute over payment of your invoices then you cannot sell the customer's property.

Step 1 – Impose an obligation to collect

To take advantage of the process you will need to be able to identify which bits belong to whom.  If you can, for example, properly identify which engine parts etc belong to Mr X, then you first need to send a written notice to Mr X which sets out what items you are holding which you wish him to collect.

The notice can be given by letter and does no need to be an overly formal document.  It will however need to give the following information:

  • Your name and address;
  • Details of the property you held (enough detail so that your customer can identify what you hold – including photos with the notice will help);
  • The location where the property is being held and from where it can be collected; and
  • A clear statement that the property is ready for collection (it will be best to advise the customer to make an appointment to come and collect his belongings).

The notice needs to be given either to the customer in person, left at his usual or last known address, or posted to him at his usual or last known address.  Once it has been delivered it would be sensible to follow up with a phone call or email to make sure the customer has read the notice and intends to come and collect his things.  If nothing happens then you may need to move towards selling the property, which is dealt with next.

Step 2 – Notice of intention to sell

If the notice in step 1 has failed because the customer may have moved away and you expect difficulty finding him again, then you can still proceed with step 2.  If the customer has got your first notice and done nothing then you will also need to move to step 2.  This step also involves a notice being sent to the customer – although this time the rules state it must be sent by registered post or by recorded delivery service.  The notice can again be given by letter and must include the following information:

  • Your name and address;
  • Details of the property (as before, include photos if you can);
  • The location where the property is being held; and
  • The date on or after which you propose to sell the property.

You must allow a reasonable period of time between sending this second notice and the date on or after which you propose to sell the property so that your customer has a decent second chance, following receipt of this notice, to get in touch and come and collect his property.  After all, this is the most practical outcome in the process.  However, if the deadline you have set passes and the goods remain in your workshop you are now entitled to sell them.

If you do decide to sell the property you will need to account to your customer for the proceeds of sale, less any costs of sale you have incurred.  You must choose a responsible method of sale – entering the items into an auction with a respectable auction house ought to be good enough. If your client then belatedly arrives at your workshop you will need to hand over the net sale proceeds.  Of course, you may have to keep these in your own bank account for some time if your customer has disappeared, but notwithstanding that you will have a continuing duty to pay the net sale proceeds to him.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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