Friday, October 20, 2006

Are they ripping us off?

Another excellent article from the Disability Now archive. I hear similar stories every day.

Some equipment companies are putting people under extreme pressure to buy, says Rod Hermeston.

Patricia Chubb, 67, has spent the entire amount of an insurance policy she had hoped to use for a holiday on a bathlift she says she cannot use.

A salesman from Nationwide Mobility sold her a Safety Bathe at a special price of £1,295, a £200 reduction which he said was only available that day, she claims.

While she was never able to try out the device in her bath, she claims the salesman said it would be fine after looking at the way she got into the bath.

When the lift arrived she tried to use it but says she realised that it was unsuitable for her. "It kept swinging me to one side. It was unbelievably painful for two or three days afterwards."
But the company told her there was nothing wrong with the lift, she claims.

An occupational therapist (OT) from Bristol social services has since said that the device is inappropriate because of the movements involved in using it.

The company has now offered Ms Chubb an Aquatec Fortuna bathlift instead, worth £895 the company told her. But it sells for around £450 elsewhere. Ms Chubb says she would like her money back.

Jane Madden of Oxford and Josephine Fanning of Didcot also complained to DN about the company. Ms Fanning accuses it of a hard sell which led her to buy a bathing device she feels unable to use. Ms Madden says a salesman tried to persuade her to pay around £400 more than the Aquatec Fortuna cost from another company.

Nationwide Mobility has failed to answer questions from DN despite being contacted on numerous occasions. In a statement it said that if anybody experienced problems with the company's agents or products "we would ask that they contact us directly so we can give the matter our early attention."

This response angered Ms Chubb, who claims she contacted them five times but only made headway when she got the local trading standards department involved.

The British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) has a complaints and conciliation scheme and can expel its members. Nationwide Mobility is not a BHTA member.

Unfortunately, experiences like these are not uncommon with other companies selling disability equipment such as scooters, bathlifts and stairlifts through ads in the national press, says Nick Pelling, director of the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF).

Salesmen often work on commission and saying that things are on special offer for one day is a classic tactic, he says. The DLF has received calls from people saying salesmen have even driven them to the bank to withdraw a deposit or encouraged them to lie about their age to get a bank loan.

Maggie Winchcombe, director of the Disabled Living Centres Council (DLCC), is worried about products being sold to people inappropriately.

"The group at risk of making expensive mistakes are those for whom dealing with an impairment is a new experience," she says. They only know about products through ads in the press.

It is important for this group to get impartial information. OTs in disabled living centres can offer that advice, she says.

It may be tempting to grab that "special offer", but Ms Winchcombe warns: "Don't make any commitment or sign anything until you have had time to consider."

There are good reasons for this because if you invite a salesman round, t here is no cooling-off period if you change your mind.

If you pay with a credit card there is a cooling-off period.

Under the Sale of Goods Act, a product must be fit for the purpose for which it is sold, so if a salesman misleads a consumer about what a product can do, the buyer is entitled to a refund.
But you do have to let the firm know that there is a problem within a reasonable time. And if the firm refuses to pay up, you might have to prove that you were misled by them in court, and this is not easy.

You should contact your local council and ask for the trading standards department or you could go to a Citizens Advice Bureau or solicitor.

At the moment there is limited regulation. BHTA has a code of practice and companies adhering to it should bring in an OT if they are uncertain how appropriate a product is.
Things may be set to improve in the sector.

The DLF, DLCC and BHTA are in the early stages of negotiations to set up a new code of practice for all direct selling of disability equipment.

This could involve a quality standards mark which those signing up to the code would carry on their ads. And a body could be set up to deal with complaints.

BHTA director Ray Hodgkinson says: "We hope people will join it to give public confidence. And companies not within it may not get business."

He hopes the Government will back the system.

Meanwhile, it is essential for people to seek unbiased information. The DLF can advise on equipment and suppliers.

The DLCC can give details of your nearest disabled living centre where you can try out equipment and get free advice.

It is a minefield, but with care you can avoid getting blown up.
Pressurised into handing money over:

In February 2000 Josephine Fanning, 76, of Didcot, had a Bath Bubble bathing aid demonstrated by a Nationwide Mobility rep. Ms Fanning, who has arthritis, claims when she asked for time to think the salesman got cross, saying he wouldn't come back to the area to waste his time. She says she bought the device for £595 because she felt under pressure. But she found the buttons hard to press and, on one occasion when she used it, she slipped off it.
Her son George Fanning was furious when he found out in August. He contacted Nationwide Mobility in September but claims they ignored his calls until he threatened to go to the press and his local MP in January this year.

The company has offered another product, but he has insisted it is tried out in the presence of an OT.

DLF helpline, tel: 0845 130 9177.
DLCC, tel: 0161 834 1044.
BHTA, tel: 01732 458868.

E-mail your experiences to DN:


Simon said...

nationwide-mobility are immoral. They conned my elderly mother into paying £7000 for goods and services worth around £1000. They don't put prices on their website so that their salespeople have carte blanche to take advantage of the elderly and vulnerable. Thank you for the contact details.

Zafar from Luton UK said...

There should be a legislation to force this sort of companies to show prices against their products and any other charges involved so that the customers can compare before getting involved with some of these nasties.