Friday, June 11, 2010

BBC watchdog: Virgo Health Care

Yesterday you may of seen the BBC programme 'Watchdog' which included in their Rouge Traders piece Virgo Healthcare (formerly ABM Mobility) .  If you didn't see the programme please follow the links at the bottom of the post to see a transcript and watch the programme on BBC I-player.

While people are quite rightly outraged at the sales practices of companies like Virgo Healthcare, the sad truth is they are all to common.

If your thinking of buying a piece of mobility equipment, such as mobility scooter, power chair or manual wheelchair. Or a 'daily living aid' such as a bathlift, adjustable bed or stairlift, here are are just a few easy ideas to help make sure you don't get taken for a ride when buying that scooter.

If you are buying off the internet.

Make sure you know who your buying from by checking to see that they show their full contact details on the site. (Company Name, Address and a land-line phone number).

See if they are a member of the British Healthcare Trades Association, either by looking for their logo,which looks like the one on the right, or by finding them on the BHTA's list of  members at 

Please bear in mind though that not all healthcare suppliers are BHTA members. Not being a member does not mean that they are automatically bad, but its just something you should bear in mind when deciding where to buy from.

When paying for your purchase via the internet always use a credit card, or for smaller items you can sometimes use paypal.  All Credit Card payments made over the value of £100 are covered by section 75 of the consumer credit act, so if the company goes burst, fails to deliver or delivers faulty goods you can claim back your money from your credit card company.  For more about this, see this section on

Its important to emphasize, section 75 only applies to Credit cards Not Debit cards or cheques.  Debit cards are a form of instant payment where the money (if available) goes immediately from your bank account into theirs, rather like cash ... Cheques could be said to be a little safer as you do at least have a small window of opportunity where you could cancel the cheque before it is cashed. But that depends on you Bank's own policy and you should check with your local branch for information about that.

Paypal use a their own complaints procedure, please refer to their site for more details:

Make sure you know what your getting!

Sounds obvious perhaps, but don't just rely on the picture, check out the item description, ask questions and if the price seems to be good to be true?  Well you know what they say!

Sales people / Demonstrators

If you have arranged for a sales person to call on you in your home there are a few simple things you should do.

Nobody likes to consider or admit that could be vulnerable to high pressure sales, but the fact is regardless of how fit you are of how mentally alert you may feel,  its all to easy to find yourself in difficulty when dealing with slick sales people.

So whenever possible make sure that someone else, like a friend or relative, is present when the sales person calls.  If that isn't possible ask a friend, relative or neighbour to phone about half an hour after the appointment starts.  That phone call both gives you the opportunity to gather your thoughts and could also give you either an excuse to ask the sales person to leave or give a signal to the person who you asked to phone you that you need them to intervene.

Let me explain.  I have used this method myself for both sales people and dodgy dates ...

A friend rings my mobile after about half an hour of the sales person calling and asks if I'm okay, if everything is fine then I tell them that and explain to the quizzical sales person after the call that it was just a friend checking up on me.  If the sales person is genuine in their interest in your well-being then they shouldn't have a problem with a friend checking on you.

If you are in a situation where you feel pressured and you either need an excuse to get out or you need to be rescued, but feel you can't say that directly, then use a pre determined phrase. One of my favourites is "How's Uncle Bob".  My friend will then ask if I'm okay to which I will simply answer "yes" or "no" - they will then ask if I need rescuing, again a simple "yes" or "no". "Yes" means "Help - Come Now!", "No" means "I'm Okay, but check again in half an hour"

It seems rather convoluted, but its got me out of scrapes with both sales people and blind dates!

You can always offer tea.  Not only is it polite, but going off into the kitchen to make a cup of tea will give you a few moments to gather your thoughts.  If they don't want tea go and make one for yourself anyway, even if you then leave it to get cold.  Besides one of the high pressure sales tactics involves trying to wear you down, a cup of tea and biscuit will help keep your energy up.  If you find that the sales person follows you to kitchen and you still need a moment to yourself, make the tea then  pop to the loo, the can't follow you in there.

Its always difficult when it comes to discussing things like price, particularly for older people who maybe more reserved about these things.  But there are two really important questions you need to ask yourself before signing or agreeing to anything.

1) Does what I'm being offered do what I need?

2) Can I afford it?

If you have any doubts, don't sign or agree to anything and certainly do not hand over any money or financial details. At the end of the day, if the sales person represents a reputable bushiness, that is interested in your well-being and providing a good service, they should be prepared to come back another day. Don't feel embarrassed or pressured into making a decision 'then and there' which you are not happy about. You are the customer and just like buying from a shop, if you are not happy, don't buy.

Some less reputable salesman will rely on the 'obligation factor' to make a sale - Meaning that they are banking on your sense of guilt if you don't buy.  After all "they have come all this way" or they "have made a special effort just for you" .  No, remember you are under no obligation.

Some Golden Rules When Buying 

Here are some golden rules for when you are buying any sort of mobility or 'daily living' equipment.

Questions you need to ask yourself:
Does what I want to buy do what I need it to do? 
Am I being asked to buy something I don't want or need?
Is the company (or the person)  able to offer after sales help if something breaks or I change my mind?
Is it at a price I can afford?

If the answer to any of these questions is no or doubtful, don't buy.

What To Do If Something Goes Wrong

Goods sold over the internet (and TV), through a catalogue or directly to you in your own home are subject to a 7 day cooling off period.

For extensive details about that see this (very long) url leading UK Government web page about 'Distant Selling':

In simple terms, if you buy anything through the methods described above, you have 7 days in which to change you mind. But you must tell the company you have changed you mind by letter, fax or Email. A phone call, while useful for finding out how to go about things is the first thing you should do, cancellation of an order can only be done in writing.

If you find a older relative or person with a disability has agreed to buy something as a result of high pressure sales tactics there are a number of things you should do.

Ring the company and just ask if they would be willing to cancel the order.
Write to the company and repeat your request to cancel the order and remind of their obligation to provide a cooling off period.

If after the initial phone call you feel that they are not willing to cancel the order ...

Contact your local trading standards office as soon as possible (your county council will have their details) and seek advice

If a payment was made with a credit card, ring the card company and ask their advice, they maybe able to halt the payment.

If a cheque was used, contact the cheque holders bank, the may be able to cancel the cheque.

In Conclusion

Choosing and buying any sort of equipment to help if you have a disability or you are an older person, is really complicated (even if you have been doing it for 20 years like me).  If you have any doubts at all you should ask your Occupational Therapist, Social Care Team or GP for advice before making any purchase.

Despite the report on Watchdog/Rogue Traders, there are many decent companies out there whose main concern is providing good products and a good service. However they are still in business to make money. And just like any big purchase, you must do your research and make sure you are happy before making any sort of commitment to buy.

Additional Links 

BBC Watchdog/Rouge Traders article about Virgo Healthcare,

BBC Watchdog on  Iplayer
This programme is only available for seven days

British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA)

 Section 75 from

UK Government web page about 'Distant Selling'

George, Webmaster

Please note: this article (post) is intended to supply information and opinion only and is not legally binding.

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