The Office of Fair Trading (OfT) has taken action against a leading stairlift company following a study into “unfair business practices” across the mobility aids market.
In the wake of last year’s report, OfT launched an investigation into Acorn Mobility Services – which trades as Acorn Stairlifts – for potential breaches of consumer protection laws.
The Yorkshire-based company has now been forced to change some of the terms and conditions it used in its customer contracts, which OfT said were “potentially unfair”.
The company has also agreed to “overhaul” its customer service procedures, including setting up a free helpline and improving staff training, and is working with its local trading standards department to improve the way it handles complaints.
OfT is still investigating a second national mobility aids trader, this time over suspected unfair doorstep sales practices.
OfT has also revoked the consumer credit licences of two business associates over concerns about how they sold mobility aids.
Amarjit Gill, who traded as ABM Mobility, breached consumer protection legislation, including using aggressive sales techniques, despite warnings from trading standards, and repeatedly breached interim enforcement orders.
Ranjit Dhami held a separate licence and had traded as A.B.M., Phoenix 1000, Eurostar, Star Enterprises and Phoenix Enterprises. She was judged unfit to hold a credit licence because of her association with Amarjit Gill’s business.
David Fisher, an OfT director, said: “We warned traders that unless they stopped using aggressive sales techniques and unfair business practices to sell mobility aids they would face enforcement, and that is what we are doing.”
But despite concerns raised in the study, OFT “provisionally” concluded last year that it was not necessary to refer the entire mobility aids market to the Competition Commission.
It is now considering the results of a consultation on that conclusion, which ended in October 2011.
Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK, which leads the national network of Disabled Living Centres – which provide free, impartial advice on independent living equipment – welcomed OfT’s latest actions, which he said would send a warning to other companies to “clean their act up”, but “should have been done a long time ago”.
Norton said he believed OfT had enough evidence to refer the entire mobility aids market to the Competition Commission.
He said: “We have got an industry here that has not been regulated in any way. Profit margins can be very high.”
He said it was only after big retail giants such as Asda and B&Q entered the market that prices had started to become more “realistic”, but added: “There are some good companies out there that give really good after-sales service and can justify their prices. There are others that might not be able to do that.”
Dave Belmont, Acorn Stairlifts’ company secretary, said he believed Acorn was now the only stairlift company to provide a free customer service number, while sales resulting from customer recommendations were 48 per cent higher last month than in January 2011.
He said dealings with OfT had been “constructive” and the company was “delighted that the case was successfully closed last week”.