The OFT has published the results of its market study, which was launched on 16 February 2011 and reported in our February 2011 bulletin. Within the three areas focussed on in the study, the OFT found that: consumers are not being treated fairly and although the problem is not endemic, it is widespread and those targeted are particularly vulnerable; over half of consumers are not comparing prices of mobility aid adequately and so are not getting a fair price; and the effective lack of competition in the sector means it can be hard to obtain the best value wheelchairs.
The actions and recommendations which follow the market study include: the OFT launching consumer protection investigations into two mobility aids traders and investigating several other cases, launching a campaign designed to raise awareness of doorstep selling and planning to produce enforcement guidance for Trading Standards Services in March 2012.
The OFT is also working with the British Healthcare Trades Association, which will be amending its Code of Practice to require members to display prices and price ranges. In terms of competition in the wheelchair sector, the OFT has indicated it will make recommendations to NHS Supply Chain and to the individual public sector purchasing bodies across the UK, with the aim of increasing their ability to drive competition into the sector.
The OFT has not yet reached a provisional view as to whether the statutory test for reference to the Competition Commission has been met, but at this stage the OFT does not feel this is a case where the OFT would exercise its discretion to make a reference and has invited interested parties to submit their views on this proposed decision by 20 October 2011.