Between 1946 and 1964, 17 million births were recorded in Britain alone. We have come to call this generation the ‘Baby Boomers’ however today these boomers are reaching retirement age.
Because they can expect to live much longer than their parents or grandparents, most of this generation aspires to live independently, in the comfort of their own home. One of the consequences has been the growth of a mobility aids industry, (now valued in excess of £500 million), to support elderly people to continue to live independent lives, providing everything from stair lifts and mobility scooters to wet rooms.
One of Warwickshire Trading Standards‘ key priorities is to protect elderly and vulnerable people, whether from postal scams, dodgy builders or problem mobility aids companies.
In 2013, Warwickshire Trading Standards began to receive complaints from consumers, unhappy with the performance of their ‘new’ Stannah stair lifts sold to them by J W Mobility Ltd and supplied and fitted by Classic Stairlifts Ltd.
Trading standards officers investigated and an expert examination of the stair lifts quickly revealed that they were made up of second hand parts ‘cut and shut’ together. In some cases, they were also unsafe. Some of these stair lifts had cost in excess of £4000 to purchase and fit.
In the case of one stair lift sold to an elderly couple in their eighties, a report undertaken by an independent expert revealed a series of faults including the fact that the stair lift track system had been designed and built too large for the staircase so that the lower end of the hinged rail dug into the hall carpet, preventing it from rising properly; the hinge motor no longer lifted hinged rail track up and had to be assisted and lifted by hand to start the procedure; and the track obstructed the front door whenever the stair lift was downstairs and also whenever the hinge failed, which seriously impeded emergency access.
Further, critical track joint bolts had been omitted at installation on every track joint; and the track had been cut and re-welded with poor quality welding. It was therefore unsafe to use.
The company that sold these stair lifts, J W Mobility, claimed to be selling new Stannah Stairlifts, but the lifts supplied were instead made up of second hand parts of old Stannah stairlifts, ‘cut and shut’ together, with rails supplied by another manufacturer.
Paul Nicholson of Classic Stairlifts Ltd, who supplied and fitted the stairlifts, also claimed to be a member of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) and a signatory to the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS).
Nuneaton Magistrates hearing the case said of the director of J W Mobility, Richard Smith, that this was a very serious matter because it affected elderly vulnerable people, that the necessary checks were not made and that it affected not just one consumer, but several. Of Nicholson they added that he had put vulnerable elderly consumers at very serious risk, by fitting unsafe products in their homes.
At Nuneaton Magistrates Court on 10 March 2015, J W Mobility Ltd, trading as Mobility & Lifestyle, (branches in Bedworth, Atherstone, Hinckley, Rugby, Tamworth, Loughborough and Melton Mowbray) pleaded guilty to three consumer protection offences and were ordered to pay £9536.24. Smith (18/5/76, age 38 and of Burbage, Hinckley) was personally charged with falsely describing one stair lift for which he personally had been the salesman as new when it was made up of second hand parts, some of which dated back to 1999. He was ordered to pay £2322.08.
J W Mobility Ltd employed a subcontractor to supply/install the stair lifts but did not carry out proper checks on his qualifications or supervise the work and had no written contract to prove what was agreed between the two traders. Further, the installer was not an authorised Stannah Dealer.
The installer, Nicholson (31/5/63, age 51 and of Hednesford, Cannock), the sole director and owner of Classic Stairlifts Ltd pleaded guilty to one offence under the General Product Safety Regulations and received an eight week prison sentence suspended for 12 months. He also pleaded guilty to a further three consumer protection offences and was ordered to pay a total of £4663.32 in fines and costs.
The company, Classic Stairlifts Ltd of Hednesford, Staffs also pleaded guilty to four consumer protection charges and were ordered to pay a total of £11,536.24.
Smith admitted he had failed to supervise the contracts or make appropriate checks on his supplier. Mr Nicholson apologised for misleading the public by claiming to be a signatory of a code of conduct, when he was not.
How to buy a stair lift
There are many good websites that can give further advice on how to buy a stair lift but these steps will help. Please note, it is worth speaking to your local council to see if you’re eligible for financial assistance.
- Seek advice from an occupational therapist who may have knowledge of local reliable tradespeople
- Always seek a range of quotes for local companies
- Ask for references and check them
- Check that the trader is a genuine member of a trade association, for example BHTA and that their membership is current
- Go on recommendation whenever possible
- Traders will need to visit your home to check a stair lift can be fitted, but don’t be pressured in to buying on the spot
- If you are buying new, check that you will receive a new product
- Consider having someone with you when a trader comes to visit
- Make sure that what is fitted matches the description on the order form, and if it does not do not pay the balance and raise a complaint with the company concerned
This post was provided by Warwickshire trading standards.