The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has announced today that it is formally launching its market study into mobility aids, following consultation on its scope.
The OFT received over 100 responses from consumer groups, government, industry, Trading Standards Services, charities and individual consumers, which confirmed that there are concerns about this sector. The Disabled Living Foundation was one of the organisations that responded.
The study will cover wheelchairs, scooters, stair lifts, bath aids, hoists and adjustable beds and specialist seating. It will consider three key questions:
- Are consumers able to access, assess and act on the right information so they can purchase the right mobility aid for them and help drive vigorous competition amongst firms?
- Are consumers being treated fairly by traders and suppliers, and if not what can best be done to address this?
- Is competition in the wheelchair sector working well for consumers?
Many consultation responses raised concerns about consumers' inability to make informed decisions when purchasing a mobility aid, which could lead to them being overcharged, purchasing low quality products, or purchasing products that either fall short of or exceed their needs. Concerns were also raised about traders' or suppliers' use of high pressure sales tactics, especially in the home, failure to use clear terms and conditions before the purchase decision is made and failure to observe cancellation rights.
Other concerns put forward included a lack of competition in the wheelchair sector resulting from the structure of the market, the behaviour of some firms and public bodies' decisions as purchasers and suppliers.
The OFT will consider all of these issues as part of its study to examine whether the markets are working well for consumers, and where it has concerns to consider how they can be tackled.
Ann Pope, OFT Senior Director of Goods, said:
'Mobility aids are important products for elderly and disabled people, which can significantly improve the quality of their lives. For many, they are an absolute necessity.
'Consultation with the industry, consumer groups and others has supported our initial view that there are consumer and competition issues in this sector that need examining to see if outcomes for consumers can be improved.
'We have had positive engagement with a wide range of interested parties and look forward to working constructively with the industry and others during the course of our study.'
Chris Shaw, DLF’s Chief Executive, said: “As the leading national provider of impartial advice and information on mobility aids such as these, we welcome the OFT’s investigation into this market and hope that it will lead to an improved situation for consumers. Although many of the companies in this sector have excellent practices, unfortunately we still often hear from people who have received poor service or bought expensive items of equipment that are not suitable. Our websites ‘Living made easy’ (www.livingmadeeasy.org.uk) and AskSARA (www.asksara.org.uk) offer valuable independent information on equipment and help consumers identify suppliers that have signed up to industry codes of conduct. We would encourage all those looking to buy mobility aids to use our advice and information to help them make informed decisions before purchasing.”
The UK mobility aids sector was estimated to be worth around £500 million in 2008. It attracts a large number of calls to Consumer Direct, the OFT-managed advice service, from people complaining or asking for advice. In 2010, over 4,500 such calls were made.
The OFT aims to publish its market study in September 2011. It will be contacting key parties directly during the course of the market study. Other interested parties can submit views by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by writing to:
Mobility Aids Team
Office of Fair Trading
2-6 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8JX
You can read the full press release at http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2011/17-11.