This is a continuation of a series of blogs about stairlifts. For earlier blogs click on “UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE” in the TAG CLOUD.
My first enquiries through comparison websites and directly to manufacturers and suppliers like Age UK, turned up a distinct lack of purchasing information, particularly about costs. My conversations with call centre staff were equally unforthcoming about costs and also made reference to dubious practices in the industry. None of this was particularly reassuring.
When I looked down the Google list I saw an interesting reference to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). I thought this might be a good place to point me in the right direction.
In 2010, the OFT was concerned about the increasing number of complaints Trading Standards officers were receiving about the sale of mobility aids including stairlifts. The total had reached 4,000 at that time. The OFT commissioned a market study to assess the scale of the problem and this was carried out in the early part of 2011. The study was produced by SPA Future Thinking and published in August 2011. It’s 98 pages long and I doubt would be read by many elderly people in their search for any mobility equipment, nonetheless, it raises some very disturbing questions.
- 22% of purchasers had no previous experience of buying
- 70% had no expert advice
- 30% of purchasers are over 75 years old
- Half had no comparison advice before purchasing:-
“If an in-home salesperson (surveyor) convinced them that mobility aids would meet their needs, they simply bought without investigation of other suppliers.”
- There was evidence that some suppliers had a policy of not giving any indication of costs over the phone (which makes comparison of prices difficult). It also leaves sales reps (surveyors) to claim they are giving a discount.
In September 2011, the OFT issued a press release warning that people may be paying too much for mobility aids and secondly that there was evidence of high pressure and misleading sales practices when buying this equipment at home. They were concerned that half of the customers were not shopping around and so could be paying too much. They also called for businesses to supply actual prices.
It’s evident from my own earlier experiences that by June 2012 nothing has changed. In spite of this, the OFT concluded that it was not appropriate to make a market investigation referral to the Competition Commission.
This all suggests that elderly people can be very vulnerable to the sharp practices of some suppliers and manufacturers of mobility equipment. Stairlifts are not an inexpensive item and therefore it is difficult to see how elderly people can be reassured they are receiving value for money.