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Sharp selling practices

Home selling of assistive products

Older woman shopping onlineIn 2001, Rica (now the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers) carried out an important mystery-shopping study that helped lead to a change in legislation on home selling of assistive products.

The study, commisioned by Age Concern, aimed to establish evidence of sharp practices by companies selling products such as stairlifts, powered scooters and special armchairs and beds.

The research was carried out in three stages:

  • consultation with a wide range of other advice agencies on their experiences with the assistive products industry
  • an in-depth study of nine selected complaints and consideration of six others
  • six mystery-shopping exercises, in which older people received home visits from companies identified by the advice agencies as the source of consumer complaints

Key findings

Responses from advice agencies showed that they shared Age Concern's suspicions about the operation of some companies. Both the complaint case studies and the mystery-shopping exercise revealed a depressingly similar range of problems being faced by older people when buying these products. The majority of these cases related to products sold to people in their own homes rather than in shops.

The key issues raised were:

  •     influential advertisements
  •     detrimental effect on cancellation rights of invited home visits
  •     over-forceful selling practices
  •     products unsuitable for a person's abilities and needs
  •     poor demonstration
  •     large deposits required
  •     dramatic price reductions to induce purchase
  •     verbal agreements not written into the final contract
  •     restricted consumer rights when products were made to personal specification
  •     pressurised selling of expensive maintenance contracts
  •     poor after-sales service


This research suggested that sharp practices were being carried out by a minority of companies selling assistive products. Because of this, we recommended - and continue to recommend - a range of measures:

  • Responsible advertising - new codes relating to assistive products
  • Promotion of independent advice - better publicity and provision
  • Responsible traders - strengthening and promotion of industry codes of practice
  • Protective laws and practices - review to give greater consistency and protection
  • Co-ordinated collection of data on complaints - to identify their extent and the persistent offenders
  • Literature and information setting out consumer rights - targeted to older people buying assistive products at home

Research reports

Last updated: May 2018

See also: Consumer rights | Protect yourself from scams