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Press releases 2011 -

OFT confirms scope of mobility aids study

wheelchair

17/11    16 February 2011

The OFT today formally launched 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 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.'

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 mobilityaids@oft.gsi.gov.uk, or by writing to: 

Mobility Aids Team  
Goods Group
Office of Fair Trading
Fleetbank House
2-6 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8JX

Download the OFT's statement of scope document (pdf 263kb)

NOTES

  1. The OFT announced its intention to launch a market study into mobility aids in November 2010. See press release: OFT to seek views ahead of mobility aids market study.
  2. OFT market studies are carried out under section 5 of the Enterprise Act 2002 (EA02) which allows the OFT to obtain information and conduct research. Effectively, they allow a market-wide consideration of both competition and consumer issues.
  3. Market studies examine why particular markets are not working well for consumers. They take an overview of regulatory and other economic drivers in the market and consumer and business behaviour. Possible outcomes of market studies include: enforcement action by the OFT; a market investigation reference to the Competition Commission; recommendations for changes in laws and regulations; recommendations to regulators, self-regulatory bodies and others to consider changes to their rules; campaigns to promote consumer education and awareness; a clean bill of health. 
  4. The OFT is unable to provide advice or resolve individual complaints for consumers. Consumers can seek advice from Consumer Direct (tel: 08454 04 05 06, www.consumerdirect.gov.uk).



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