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How to buy the best stairlift

Dodgy stairlift sales tactics to avoid

By Joanna Pearl

Article 5 of 5

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Dodgy stairlift sales tactics to avoid

We've found evidence of leading stairlift company Acorn Stairlifts using pressure-selling tactics. Here's how you can spot and avoid questionable stairlift sales tactics. 

In early 2019, we carried out a snapshot undercover investigation into the sales methods used by the UK's three largest stairlift companies: Acorn, Age UK and Stannah. 

Which? mystery shoppers asked stairlift salespeople to assess their homes for a stairlift to be fitted.

Our trained researchers used hidden recorders so we could see what goes on behind closed doors. 

Salespeople from one of the companies, Acorn, used sales tactics on two of three visits that we think may be in breach of consumer laws on pressure selling.

Our investigation did uncover good practice from other companies, and has allowed us to name our first Which? Recommended Provider stairlift supplier. 

Find the best and worst places to buy stairlifts from brands such as Age UK and Stannah, as rated by owners, and discover the stairlift supplier we’ve just made a Which? Recommended Provider.

How Acorn, Age UK and Stannah performed

We found evidence of pressure selling from Acorn, as well as salespeople making incorrect claims and badmouthing competitors. As well as potentially breaking consumer law, this also appears to breach the industry (British Healthcare Trades Association) code of practice.

However, our mystery shoppers saw good sales practice on all visits from Age UK and Stannah. Salespeople exerted no pressure to buy, and customers were given the time they needed to make a decision.

Code of practice for stairlift sales

Here are some of the questionable tactics that we observed being used by Acorn Stairlift salespeople in our mystery shop. 

Acorn's response

Acorn Stairlifts says it is disappointed with the findings and that they no way reflect the extremely positive feedback that it consistently receives both from customers and its sales team.

It told Which?: ‘Notwithstanding our reservations about the nature of the data that Which? has obtained, we are investigating the concerns raised. Acorn will not condone or tolerate even isolated instances of individuals falling below our expected high standards of conduct.’

However, Acorn does not accept that a deposit was sought on the visit, or that an immediate decision was required.

Check your stairlift company

The bigger stairlift companies (Acorn, Age UK and Stannah) are all members of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA). The BHTA gives examples of what it calls ‘inappropriate selling tactics’ in its code of practice. These include:

  • an unreasonably long stay for sales in the home
  • a high initial price followed by the offer of a discount (often followed by a telephone call to the 'manager')
  • a discount on the condition that the consumer agrees to the sale that day
  • inducements to force a quick decision
  • withholding price information until the end of the sales discussion/visit
  • alleging limited availability of a product
  • misrepresentation of the product, price or contract.

There are things you can do to research and prepare for a home visit so you'll know the right questions to ask and can easily see through dodgy sales practices.

Clarify your needs in advance

Research which stairlift you need, and even whether a stairlift is right for you at all. In most cases, for example, good hand movement is required to operate the controls and the footrest, although there are workarounds.

Consider getting advice from an occupational therapist (through your local council's social-service department, or privately through the Royal College of Occupational Therapists).

If you can try a stairlift before buying, so much the better – for example if a friend has one, or you can go to a local disabled-living centre.

Find a stairlift company

Our guide to buying and installing a stairlift can give you an idea of how much you should expect to pay. The price will depend on factors such as whether your staircase is straight, curved, or has turns or landings. The more complex your staircase, the more it will cost.

A stairlift is a significant purchase, so ask more than one company to visit your home to give you quotes. Factor in aftercare costs such as servicing, maintenance and emergency call-outs, and ask what’s included in the warranty.

The assessment visit

On your visit, it may be helpful to have a family member or friend with you. If you have more complex needs, you could also have your occupational therapist present.

Most visits go smoothly, but if you feel uncomfortable with any sales practice – for example, if you feel pressured – don't commit to anything on the spot. It's fine to ask the salesperson to leave if you're not happy.

The salesperson (surveyor) will give you a written quotation including the cost of installation. Make sure this includes details of aftercare costs too. 

Complaints about dodgy stairlift selling

If you're unhappy with the way the stairlift salesperson has dealt with you, first complain to the company using its formal complaints procedure (ask it if you're not certain what this involves).

If your complaint isn't resolved to your satisfaction, and the company is a BHTA member, you can make a written complaint to the BHTA by email to complaints@bhta.com, or by letter to BHTA, Suite 4.6, The Loom, 14 Gowers Walk, London, E1 8PY.

If the company is not a BHTA member, seek help from Citizens Advice (0345 040506). 

You can buy the three main stairlift brands directly from the companies themselves, or through independent retailers or authorised dealers. If you're not sure which brand is likely to suit you best, and want to narrow down the number of sales visits you receive, visit our guide to the best stairlift brands