Mobility aids market – OFT to check on advice and value for money

Mobility_aids_market_investigation

Mobility aids market study to be undertaken by Office of Fair Trading

19 November 2010

The OFT announced today it intends to launch a market study into mobility aids, examining matters such as whether consumers are well informed and treated fairly, and whether the industry is competitive.

Ahead of this, the OFT is engaging with interested parties to ask for their views and to discuss the proposed scope of the study, which will commence in early 2011.

Mobility aids are typically used by the elderly, disabled and those with medical conditions to help them move around freely. They include products such as wheelchairs, scooters, stair lifts, bath aids, hoists and adjustable beds. The UK sector for mobility aids was estimated to be worth around £500 million in 2008, 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 in the media and elsewhere 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 in relation to mobility aids:

  •  Are consumers being treated fairly by traders and suppliers, and if not, what can we best do 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 Government, devolved administrations, consumer groups, users, charities and 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.’

The OFT will be contacting key parties directly. Other interested parties can submit written views by 10 January 2011.

Comments can be submitted by email to mobilityaids@oft.gsi.gov.uk, or by writing to us at: Mobility Aids Team Goods Group Office of Fair Trading Fleetbank House 2-6 Salisbury Square London EC4Y 8JX See the Mobility aids market study page.

Extra information:

  1. 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.
  2. Market studies involve an examination of a particular market or markets with the aim of identifying and addressing any aspects of market failure ranging from competition issues to consumer detriment and the effect of government regulations. Possible results 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.
  3. 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).