By Marcus Leach

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 Office of Fair Trading 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.

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