The Office of Fair Trading has promised a shake-up in the mobility aid market, after an investigation found consumers were being mis-sold and overcharged for equipment.
The investigation found that a lack of information about the cost of mobility aids – which include wheelchairs, scooters, stairlifts and adjustable beds – makes it difficult for elderly and disabled consumers to shop around.
It found prices for one brand of scooter varied by £3,000 and has warned that the elderly and disabled can experience high pressure and misleading sales practices when buying this equipment at home.
Read our investigation which found mobility aid sellers giving poor sales advice.
Mobility aid sales techniques
Executive director of Which? Richard Lloyd says: ‘There are serious problems with the way mobility aids are sold, with sales techniques ranging from the questionable to the downright illegal*.
‘People buying mobility equipment are potentially more vulnerable than most, so the OFT must take quick, decisive action to stamp out poor practice.’
He adds: ‘The OFT also found many consumers are paying too much for mobility equipment, not shopping around for the best price or not being able to do so – half the websites and adverts checked didn’t include pricing information. The sooner retailers introduce this information, the better.’
As well as launching a consumer awareness campaign to highlight these issues, the OFT has started consumer protection investigations into two national mobility traders. One is being investigated over its doorstep sales practices and the other over its terms and conditions and service delivery.
The OFT says it has also begun action which could lead to a number of mobility aid sellers loosing their credit licenses, which they need to lend or sell goods on credit.
Plus, Trading Standards teams will be targeting firms suspected of engaging in unfair sales practices.
Read our advice on consumer rights and doorstep selling.
Mobility aid prices made clear
Following the OFT’s investigation, the trade association for mobility aid retailers, the British Healthcare Trades Association (which has over 400 members), has said it will update its code of practice to ensure members display pricing information on their marketing materials and websites.
* In August 2008 Which? published the results of its undercover research into the way mobility aids are sold. The research found some companies using high-pressure and unlawful sales practices to sell expensive and unsuitable mobility aids to vulnerable customers.