How to get the best mobility aid deal

Mobility aids play a vital role in the lives of millions of elderly and disabled people.

Whether enabling users to go on their daily shopping trips, travel to their workplace, or simply to continue living independently in their own homes, these appliances quickly become a necessity which people cannot live without

Naturally, many users of mobility aids may have limited ability to shop around for the right product and best deals.  It is important, therefore, that they should be given access to all relevant information, treated justly by sellers, and that there is effective price competition in the marketplace, with the internet being an increasingly vital source of information

However, a 2011 market study by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) found evidence that this may not always be the case. Our research found unfair sales practices targeted at vulnerable consumers, particularly through doorstep sales. More than 4,000 complaints were made to Consumer Direct in each of the three years leading up to the publication of our report. People also found it difficult to shop around for alternative offers, especially online, and as a result, may have ended up paying higher prices and buying products that do not suit their needs. For example, we found at the time that the price of identical scooters could vary by over £1,000, and we even saw price differences of £3,000

As a result, we have been working with Trading Standards Service (TSS) and specialist charities such as Age UK and the Disabled Living Foundation, as well as with myageingparent.com  to remind everyone of their rights when buying mobility aids and when dealing with doorstep traders. We also offer the following practical tips and advice to ensure that consumers receive value for money and get a fair deal:

    • Always shop around, including online, to compare products and prices and research what product best suits your needs
    • Think twice before buying, and don’t feel compelled to purchase
    • Double check facts and terms & conditions; do you fully understand the costs and know whether it includes extras like installation, on-going service charges or warranties?
    • Talk to someone you trust for a second opinion
    • Be wary of time-limited or exclusive offers that need to be signed on the spot. If you spend more than £35 with a trader on the doorstep, you usually have seven days in which to cancel (subject to certain conditions)

We have also undertaken a range of activities to address the problems we found

In August 2013, we announced that Roma Medical Aids Limited, a manufacturer of mobility scooters, had breached competition law by entering into arrangements with seven UK-wide online retailers, which prevented them from selling Roma-branded mobility scooters online and from advertising their prices online

A further investigation against another manufacturer of mobility scooters and eight of its retailers in relation to suspected breaches of competition law is ongoing

We have revoked the consumer credit licence of one trader who used highly aggressive sales tactics

We have pursued the directors of another company through the courts and obtained orders to prevent them from engaging in misleading sales practices again

Examples of such unfair sales techniques include claims of time-limited offers to encourage immediate purchase and inflated starting prices which are quickly reduced to create a false impression of a significant discount. We will continue to work with TSS to tackle such practices, which can cause considerable harm and distress to the customer

So if you (or a relative, or perhaps someone for whom you care) is thinking of buying a mobility aid product, please always remember our top tips. Most importantly, take your time and ensure that you have all of the necessary information before making your purchase. After all, you are buying this item to make your life easier and remove worries, not add to them.

Cavendish Elithorn. Executive Director – Office of Fair Trading

Please contact Citizens Advice  for your local Trading Standards office, if you have problems buying these product, and email us at mobilityaids@oft.gsi.gov.uk if you have any concerns about prices not being shown online

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