Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Surrey County Council Stair Lifts Report

Surrey trading standards have recently conducted inspections on stairlift installations in the County this is their report.


Over a three-day period in spring 2004, twelve Surrey private residential dwellings were visited where stair lifts had been recently installed. Consumers were asked about their experiences of buying and using the stair lift. The stair lifts were examined with regard to their safety. The project did not reveal any design flaws at the manufacturing stage, however, some issues have been identified that raise concerns regarding the selling and installation of stair lifts. In particular, the significant market for previously owned stair lifts raised the most concerns.The results can be broadly broken down into three main areas, namely, the selling methods; the installation; and the extended warranty. Consumers and traders need a better awareness of these issues involving the supply of stair lifts.

The selling methods

The typical purchaser of a stair lift may be regarded as being more vulnerable as they inevitably possess some form of mobility impairment due to age or otherwise. All stair lift purchases will require a minimum of two visits to the consumer's home.

The sales visit

The installation

As with any sale in a consumer's home they may feel under pressure to complete a purchase before the salesman leaves.

There was evidence to suggest that consumers did not shop around enough prior to purchase, with many consumers buying from the first company to visit their home. In some cases this resulted in the consumer obtaining poor value for money. One consumer paid £2,500 for a second-hand stair lift when a brand new one could have been purchased for £2,300 or less.

Many consumers were unable to recall the details of the sales visit and unscrupulous companies may exploit this. One lady thought that she had purchased a new stair lift when in fact it was second hand.

The installation

The correct installation of the stair lift is critical to its safety. The best designed and manufactured stair lift can be rendered potentially lethal due to improper installation. The only examples where the safety of the product was compromised were found to be attributable to poor workmanship during installation. They included:

Failure to prevent access to basic electrical insulation
Failure to provide proper protection for the mains power cable
Failure to ensure that the track supports are level and properly secured

The extended warranty

With only one exception, none of the consumers had taken out the extended warranty that was offered to them after purchasing their stair lift. Whether new or second-hand, extended warranties are available in a variety of package choices that describe the different levels of cover as "Bronze", "Silver" and "Gold" or by their number of stars. The one constant element of the extended warranty was the price. All of the warranties are extremely expensive costing on average £600 for four years after the initial year has lapsed. The salesmen warn consumers of the expensive price of parts should anything go wrong in an attempt to persuade consumers to take up the extended warranty.

It is apparent from the project that many of the stair lifts examined were in need of a service and that the cost of such a service was the sole reason why this had not occurred. Some of the complaints we have received in the past from consumers were directly attributable to an absence of servicing.

Businesses who supply stairlifts need a greater awareness of their obligations to consumers. The fact that we are monitoring this sector and that we will, where necessary, take action. Genuine traders can be reassured that we are attempting to ensure a level playing field and that we are available to advise and assist them in the endeavours to comply. Unscrupulous traders should be in no doubt as to their responsibilities and the consequences should they fail to comply with the law.