The OFT has decided to act after it received feedback from Trading Standards, charity groups and others about elderly people being ripped off by unscrupulous salesmen and traders. Every year thousands of people complain about the ‘mobility aids’ sector (which can include anything from scooters and wheelchairs to orthopaedic beds) – mainly about high pressure sales tactics and inflated prices. So how can you buy with confidence?
Sales advisers’ tactics
Trading Standards say that there are several main problems with the way mobility aids are sold.
- Customers being sold products that weren’t necessarily right for them.
- Products that don’t do what the sales advisers claim they do.
- Inflated prices. Customers being ripped off over prices.
- High pressure selling tactics. Consumers were given misleading statements about the items and/or not told about their cancellation rights.
Louis Christofides from the Office of Fair Trading says that consumers buying in this market are particularly vulnerable. “This market is unique in that you don’t tend to buy these aids very often, it’s not very easy to compare what’s available and the product is very personal. It has to help your personal physical condition.”
How to buy safely
It can be much harder to get rid of a salesman/woman once they’re in your home. If you’re buying for yourself, ask a friend or family member to be with you when the sales adviser calls.
SAVVY TIP: Many older people are fiercely independent and don’t like to feel that they can’t cope or need help, but it’s something unscrupulous salesmen and women are all too aware of. The rogues are often experts in the psychology of pressure selling and know all the tricks.
Cooling off period
You do have good consumer protection if you buy something that turns out not to be suitable or isn’t what you wanted.
- If you buy from home. You have a seven day cooling off period if the product or service you buy costs more than £35.
SAVVY TIP: It doesn’t matter whether you invited the sales adviser into your home or they cold called; your rights are the same.
- Trust your instincts. You don’t have to let the salesman/woman into your home. It’s your home and even if they’ve made an appointment you’re perfectly within your rights to change your mind if you don’t feel comfortable with them.
SAVVY TIP: Set up a ‘No cold callers’ zone. Trading Standards and the police work together in many areas to enable people to set up ‘no cold calling zones’. It’s not something you have the automatic right to do – the street or area normally has to have a high proportion of older or vulnerable people. There’s information on setting up a no cold calling zone on the Trading Standards website.
- Don’t be pressured into buying something you don’t need. You may be told how thousands of people in your situation have found this aid to be a lifesaver or be put under pressure to buy with a hefty discount.
SAVVY TIP: Try and take a step back and think: ‘would I spend this amount of money if it didn’t have a discount (i.e. if the sale price was the full price)?’ and ‘will I get enough use out of it to justify the cost?’.
- Check the company’s credentials. Ask if the company is a member of the British Healthcare Trades Association. Its members have signed up to a code of practice.
SAVVY TIP: You can find a local company that’s a member of the British Healthcare Trades Association using its find a member service.
- Get someone else to check the contract. If you’re not 100% happy with everything that’s in the contract, you shouldn’t sign it. It’s a legal document and you will be bound by its terms.
SAVVY TIP: Contracts cannot contain unfair clauses (it’s against a regulation called the ‘unfair contract terms and conditions’). If you sign a contract that is unfair, you can complain to your local Trading Standards office.
- Pay by credit card. If you have a credit card and the purchase price of an individual item is between £100 and £30,000 (including the VAT) you can make a claim against the credit card company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if the goods don’t arrive, are faulty (or not as described) or the company goes out of business.
SAVVY TIP: You don’t have to pay the full price by credit card, paying the deposit by credit card and the balance by cheque, cash or debit card will mean the whole amount is protected under Section 75 (not just the deposit). If you don’t have a credit card, pay by Visa debit card. You don’t have the same protection in law but the card provider may be able to reverse the transaction through something called ‘chargeback’. There’s more information about this in my article entitled Getting a refund from your credit or debit card through ‘chargeback‘.
- Save on the costs. If you are registered as chronically sick or disabled you don’t have to pay VAT on the costs of mobility aids.
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