Disabled consumers are being overcharged for mobility aids, and many are buying low-quality products and equipment that fails to meet their needs, campaigners have told the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
The OFT said that disabled people, consumer groups, charities and trading standards departments had made their concerns clear during a public consultation.
Following the consultation, the OFT this week formally launched an investigation into the mobility aids market.
The OFT will examine three major issues affecting the market for wheelchairs, scooters, stair lifts, bath aids, hoists, adjustable beds and specialist seating.
The study will ask whether disabled consumers have the necessary information to buy the mobility aids they need; whether they are being treated fairly by the industry; and whether there is a lack of competition in the wheelchair market.
Many of the responses to the consultation raised concerns about consumers being overcharged, buying low quality products, and buying mobility aids that either “fall short of or exceed their needs”.
There were also concerns about the use of high pressure and misleading sales tactics, with some firms seeking to “exploit consumers’ lack of information”; the failure to use clear and fair terms and conditions; and firms that do not allow consumers to use their legal right to cancel their purchase.
If the investigation finds the market is not working well, the OFT could make recommendations to business or government, take legal action against companies suspected of breaking the law, or refer the entire mobility aids market to the Competition Commission for further investigation.
The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), which provides advice and information on mobility aids, welcomed the investigation.
Chris Shaw, DLF’s chief executive, said: “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.”
Nearly 5,000 calls were made last year – an increase of 20 per cent – to complain or seek advice about mobility aids to Consumer Direct, the OFT’s advice service, with most complaints about defective products, customer service, high-pressure selling and misleading advertising.
The study is likely to be published in September.
To contribute to the investigation, email [email protected]
17 February 2011