Which? has found that poor sales advice about mobility aids could leave consumers using risky equipment and missing out on substantial VAT savings.
Which? researchers visited or rang major retailers across Great Britain, posing as carers shopping for bath aids for their disabled mother. Stores included Argos, Asda in-store pharmacies, B&Q and specialist shops.
We then asked an expert panel to rate the advice given on each visit, using its own criteria.
With more high street shops entering the market, our experts were looking for staff who could describe the company’s products, and who they might suit, skillfully – or acknowledge the limits of their knowledge and tell someone where to get more specialist advice.
This investigation features in the May edition of Which? magazine. Which? members can read the full report Mobility aids selling investigation’. If you’re not a member, subscribe to Which? magazine now to try three issues for just £3.
How they measured up
Our experts agreed that buying mobility aids, such as a bath lift or board, isn’t like buying other products where you’re likely to know the potential dangers – such as with a power tool.
But only 39% of high street shops we evaluated showed adequate product knowledge, compared with 100% of specialist shops.
Argos, B&Q and Homebase were rated ‘poor’, with internet and catalogue retailer Co-op Xest and Asda Pharmacy rated ‘could do better’.
Only the specialist shops visited were rated ‘good’, although our experts still had some concerns, such as not asking for sufficient details of the mother’s needs.
We were unable to rate Lloyds Pharmacy as some staff were baffled about what the company sold: half the six stores we visited said that they didn’t sell mobility equipment, although the retailer does online.
People with disabilities are exempt from paying VAT on products designed or adapted for their use, but only in 44% of visits overall did staff give the correct information when asked if there were discounts on products for disabled people, with our experts finding some explanations ‘muddled’.
While we’re pleased that mobility equipment is becoming more widely available, we want shops to build in better training for staff.
Which? policy adviser Claire Lilley said: ‘Our worry is that – if this equipment continues to be sold without access to reliable advice – people will buy unsuitable items, without the VAT exemption they’re entitled to, at a time when when they may be at their most vulnerable.
‘Until this happens, our research found that if people aren’t sure what they need, they’ll fare better if they go to a specialist shop.’
You may value our advice if you’re considering assistive technology including gadgets to help you remain independent at home, or your long-term care options.