The 33bhp certificate rip-off

Published: 13 November 2009

New motorcyclists have been paying up to £80 to get a certificate they do not need and which is not recognised in law.

Suppliers have been incorrectly claiming the certificates, which state a bike has been restricted to 33bhp to meet power limits for new riders, are required by insurance companies and police.

In fact MCN can reveal:
• There is no legal requirement for riders to have a so-called 33bhp certificate.
• Insurers say categorically a claim will not be rejected because you don’t have one.
• Neither police nor insurers regard them as proof a motorcycle is restricted.
• There is no industry standard on what they look like or who can issue them.
• Examples can be bought on eBay for any bike for £18.

The certificates are supplied when bikes are fitted with power restriction kits. They include the name of the owner at the time.

A leading supplier of both kits and certificates has been telling riders who buy second-hand bikes already fitted with a kit that they need to pay £25 for a replacement certificate in their name and around £60 for a dealer to check the bike is still restricted.

We telephoned FI International posing as a customer and were told we needed the new certificate because: “The police and insurance companies have stated the certificate has to be in your name.”

The salesman at FI International added: “With insurance claims it might be a case where they would refuse insurance because of it.”

In fact insurers and police say the certificate is worth no more in your own name than anyone else’s and there’s absolutely no need to pay for a new one.

An FI salesman told us twice during two separate phone calls that we could need a certificate in the event of making an insurance claim. Asked if a claim could be rejected, he said: “Yes. You know insurance companies. They will try to get out of anything if they can. Obviously they don’t want to pay out as much as possible.”

Simon Jackson, Commercial Director of major bike insurance broker Carole Nash, said: “Are they required by insurers? The answer is no. They are no more than a receipt to show that work has been done.” 

A spokesman for underwriting giant Aviva said: “It’s highly unlikely you would ever be asked to provide one of these certificates and a claim would not be rejected because you were unable to.”

FI suggested the certificate would be taken as “proof” a bike was restricted in the event the machine itself was too damaged to inspect.

The salesman said that without one of the certificates: “If something was to happen, you’ve got no proof that effectively it was restricted unless they start taking the bike apart. And obviously if the bike is in such a wreck that it’s not look-able at, obviously there’s no proof that it’s been restricted.”

MCN asked if the onus would not then fall with the insurer to prove the bike was unrestricted. The salesman told us: “No because it’s your duty as the rider to prove that it has been restricted.”

A spokesman for online bike insurer eBike said the reverse was true. “In that circumstance the burden of proof would lie with us,” he said. “We’d have to demonstrate the bike wasn’t restricted and the customer had misled us.”

Aviva’s spokesman said: “The fact is you could get one of the certificates and then DIY the bike back to unrestricted anyway.”

Met traffic police officer Paul Mostyn also said a certificate would not be regarded as proof a bike was restricted. “If we believed it was not restricted we would still demand for it to be examined,” he said. “We wouldn’t take that certificate as gospel. The proof is to have a collision investigator examine the vehicle.”

When confronted FI accepted we had been given incorrect information and said staff would be retrained. Sales and Marketing Director Fred Thomas said: “From the information you’ve given me, I’ve obviously got to look at the people who answer the phones and the information they give. It’s certainly not our policy to force people into changing the name on the certificate although we do recommend it.

“It seems that the full information isn’t getting through quite correctly.” he added.

“Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention because trust me, it will get sorted.”

The firm’s practices came to our attention following complaints from readers. One said: “I was told my insurance would be void without a certificate.”

Manufacturers provide their own versions of the certificates. Suzuki, which offers a range of bikes suitable for restriction, said the certificates showed the firm had not sold someone a bike they were not licensed for. A spokesman said: “There isn’t any industry-wide standard on it. Any Suzuki dealer that fits a restriction kit is given some paperwork which both the dealer and customer have to sign to say it’s been restricted and then we keep a record of it. It’s basically an agreement to show it’s been fitted under the terms of their licence.”

When we phoned a Suzuki dealer posing as a customer, we were correctly told there was no need to get a new certificate just because it had a previous owner’s name on it.

The Motorcycle Industry Association said there was no legal requirement for 33bhp riders to have the certificate at all. A spokesman said: “If the bike itself complies with the 33bhp limit then they are riding within the terms of their licence.” 

The unreliability of 33bhp certificates generally as proof of power restriction was highlighted by an eBay sale offering them for any machine without inspection for £18. The ad stated: ‘Have you lost/misplaced your 33BHP restriction certificate? No problem. We will supply you with another. All we need is the colour, reg number, chassis number, engine number and exact make/model of your bike.’

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