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Watchdog to look at mobility aids market

The Office of Fair Trading is to launch a market study into mobility aids – examining whether consumers are well informed and treated fairly, and whether the industry is competitive.

The selling of aids such as wheelchairs, scooters, stair lifts, bath aids, hoists and adjustable beds will come under close scrutiny.

Two years ago the UK sector for mobility aids was estimated to be worth around £500 million, and is likely to expand further over the coming years as the number of elderly people rises.

It is a sector that attracts a large number of calls to Consumer Direct, the OFT-managed advice service, from people complaining or asking for advice.

In 2009, nearly 5,000 calls were made, an approximate 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

Concerns have also been expressed that the sector is not working well for consumers, leading to higher prices and less choice, as well as consumers purchasing products that do not meet their needs.

The OFT proposes that the market study could address the following issues:

Are consumers being treated fairly by traders and suppliers, and if not, what can be done to address unfairness?

Are consumers getting the right information to enable them to make informed choices on mobility aids that meet their needs and means?

Do buyers have sufficient bargaining power and/or the ability to shop around to drive competition amongst firms and thus stimulate better quality, lower prices and more innovation in the sector?

Are there distortions of competition in the wheelchair market due to its structure, firms’ behaviour or public bodies’ behaviour as purchasers and suppliers?

The OFT is seeking views from consumer groups, users, charities and the mobility aids industry in the run-up to the launch in order to refine the scope of the study.

John Fingleton, OFT chief executive, said:

“Increasing complaints and the wide nature of the concerns make it appropriate for us to examine this sector and consider whether there is potential for improvements on a consumer or competition level, or both.

“Before embarking on such an important piece of work, we want to engage with the industry, consumer groups and others to get a clear idea of the most salient issues we should focus on.”

Comments can be submitted 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

www.oft.gov.uk

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