The vast majority of the UK’s Approved Driving Instructors are self-employed and only earn a wage when a client pays them – just like those awful zero hour contracts they're wanting to ban.
Imagine getting ready in the morning and turning up at work on time only to be told by your employer "sorry, we don't need you today". It has cost you time, and probably money, to be there and you might well have turned down other work and missed an opportunity to have been paid by someone else. How would you feel in those circumstances?
In a similar way it is you, the client, who employs the Instructor and therefore if you fail to turn up for your lesson or you give short notice of cancellation, your Instructor doesn't get paid.
The double-whammy is that the Instructor may well have turned down someone else for the time you have reserved and now can’t sell the lost time at such short notice. Not only does the Instructor miss out, other clients may miss out too.
When choosing a Driving Instructor, along with excellent teaching skills and a friendly manner, no doubt you will be expecting someone with a professional attitude and someone who provides excellent customer service. Within this you would certainly expect reliability and punctuality.
Looking at it from the Instructor’s perspective, they also hope that their clients are reliable and punctual, have a good attitude and are willing to accept responsibility for their own learning and responsibility for the bookings they've made.
If you had an instructor who consistently let you down, what would you do? I know what I'd do; I'd look for a replacement and many instructors do the same with customers. I personally try to be as flexible as possible and I understand that life often gets in the way of learning. Maybe the kids are ill, unexpected bills need to be paid, work calls you in etc or you simply haven't budgeted well and have run out of cash until payday. This all becomes obvious to an experienced Instructor, especially as the last week in the month sees more cancellations than any other. You may even be in the middle of a confidence crisis and can't face the lesson. Whatever the reason, to avoid having to pay, talk openly to your instructor and look for a solution before it's too late.
Whenever possible and subject to availability, I personally allow some flexibility by offering another lesson time within 3 working days and waive the late cancellation charge if it is attended. However, as patient and understanding as I am there’s a tipping point and in these cases I have to take everything into consideration and reluctantly part ways with clients who consistently cancel at short notice or fail to turn up.
In my experience many Instructors have a standard 48 hour or so short notice cancellation policy whereby should a client cancel within this time then the lesson fee is payable either in full or in part. There are variations in these terms and if you're not sure, I recommend that you ask your Instructor what their business terms are.
“Why should I pay for something I've not had” cried the client who failed to turn up...
You may not have attended the lesson, but you have reserved that time for yourself and yourself alone. This is not dissimilar to booking a flight; a holiday; a hotel room or even a dental appointment - in fact any appointment you make and fail to pay for or attend, costs someone something. One report estimates the cost to the taxpayer for NHS no shows as £162m per year, with more than 12 million appointments missed.
Unlike buying goods, if you reserve a service at a particular time and you don’t turn up, you have to pay because it can't be resold.
Sadly as consumers we all end up paying a little more to cover losses caused by other people’s actions, whether it’s for goods or services. Apparently we motorists pay around £30 extra per year on our motor insurance premiums simply to cover uninsured drivers. As a consumer I don't like the idea of paying extra to cover other people’s poor actions, but inevitably we all do and driving lessons are no exception.
“What can be done to reward the clients who are in the majority and are reliable?”
I often extend the lesson time for clients who turn up for every lesson and who give me plenty of notice if they ever need to change an appointment. It’s a nice way of rewarding them. I sometimes give away a free lesson as a way of saying thank you.
What I do know from my experience is that those clients who are reliable and hard-working are the ones most likely to succeed and ultimately spend less in getting their licence.
The key to avoid paying for lessons you didn't attend, is to talk openly to your instructor, keep them up to date and together you will be able find a solution and maybe even get a nice little reward.
I'll leave you with a final thought - If businesses gave customer reviews, how would you rate?