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Press releases 2011 -

OFT announces package of measures for mobility aids sector

wheelchair

105/11    29 September 2011

People may be paying too much for mobility aids such as mobility scooters and stair-lifts, and the elderly and disabled can experience high pressure and misleading sales practices when buying this equipment at home, the OFT has warned.

During the course of its market study into mobility aids, published today, the OFT has launched consumer protection investigations into two national mobility aids traders, one in relation to suspected unfair doorstep sales practices and the other over its terms and conditions and service delivery. It is investigating other similar behaviour which may result in further consumer protection actions and has started action which could lead to the removal of the credit licences from a number of sellers of mobility aids. Local Trading Standards Services (TSS) are also actively engaged in enforcement action into similar unfair sales practices in this sector.

The OFT is also today launching a national consumer awareness campaign providing consumers with practical tips and informing them of their rights when buying mobility aids on the doorstep.

The OFT's report identified other areas of concern including:

  • Evidence that around half of consumers are not shopping around so could be paying too much for mobility aids. The OFT found there can be a wide disparity in the price of identical products, for example the price of one brand and model of scooter varied by £3,000. Around half of trader websites and advertising material that were checked did not quote any prices.
  • The public sector's fragmented purchasing structure and some buying patterns can make it difficult to procure the best value wheelchairs.

The OFT has identified remedies to help consumers and healthcare organisations get better deals for mobility aids products, including:

  • Supporting local TSS in targeting firms suspected of engaging in unfair sales practices. The OFT will host an enforcement summit with TSS later this year and produce guidance for enforcers.
  • Calling for businesses to display actual prices or price ranges so that consumers can shop around more easily and find competitive quotes. The OFT has secured agreement from the trade association for mobility aid retailers, the British Healthcare Trades Association, to update its Code so that all members display such price information on their marketing materials and websites.
  • A number of recommendations for public sector purchasing bodies to help them drive vigorous competition in the wheelchair sector and obtain better value for money.

Ann Pope, Director in the OFT Goods and Consumer Group, said:

'Mobility aids are often an expensive purchase and we know that for many elderly or disabled people they can be an absolute necessity.

'While many purchasers are happy with their experience, we are concerned that some traders may take advantage of consumers when they visit them at home. We are already prioritising consumer enforcement activity in this sector and we are today issuing a warning to the industry that we will take further action where necessary.

'Many consumers may be surprised at the money they could save by shopping around. We want to encourage people to take the time to think about what they are buying so that they know they are getting the right product at a fair price.'

NOTES

  1. The final report can be found on the mobility aids market study page.
  2. Read the opening case summary in respect of the investigations mentioned above.
  3. OFT market studies are carried out under sections 5 to 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002 (EA02) which allow a market-wide consideration and report on both competition and consumer issues.
  4. Market studies involve an analysis of a particular market with the aim of identifying and addressing any aspects of market failure from competition issues to consumer detriment and the effect of government regulations. Possible results of market studies include enforcement action by the OFT; a reference of the market to the Competition Commission; recommendations for changes in laws and regulations; recommendations to regulators, self-regulatory bodies and others to consider changes to their rules; recommendations to business; campaigns to promote consumer education and awareness; or a clean bill of health.
  5. The OFT has provisionally concluded that it is not appropriate to make a market investigation reference to the Competition Commission at this time, and invites views on the proposed decision. Interested parties are invited to submit responses to this consultation by 5pm on 20 October 2011, to mobilityaids@oft.gsi.gov.uk or in writing to the Mobility Aids Market Study Team, Goods and Consumer Group, Office of Fair Trading, London, EC4Y 8JX.
    6. The OFT is unable to provide advice or resolve individual complaints for consumers. Consumers can seek advice from Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or at www.direct.gov.uk/consumer.



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