Optimum Care Mobility Ltd: unfair commercial practices in relation to doorstep sales

Office of Fair Trading (OFT) closed consumer enforcement case.

Case reference: CRE-E / 26922

Complainant

A high number of consumer complaints were made to Derbyshire County Council's Trading Standards Service (Derbyshire) about the commercial practices used by the business below when selling mobility aids to consumers in their homes. The case was subsequently transferred to the OFT. 

Investigation into

  • Optimum Care Mobility Limited ('Optimum'), of Cattermoles Holdings Buildings, Market Place, Ripley, Codnor, Derbyshire
  • Gary Frederick Price (a director of Optimum until its liquidation in February 2012) 
  • Linda Anne Price (a former director of Optimum)
  • Christopher Richard Hayball (a former director of Optimum).

Optimum operated a business selling and/or selling mobility aids products (such as stair lifts, mobility scooters, specialist chairs and bath supports) to consumers.

Issue

Potentally unfair commercial practices in relation to doorstep sales of mobility aids products particularly to vulnerable consumers.

Relevant legislation

Enterprise Act 2002 ('Enterprise Act'); Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008; Consumer Credit Act 1974; Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer's Home or Place of Work etc. Regulations 2008.

Investigation 

Derbyshire began investigating Optimum after receiving a high number of consumer complaints about Optimum's selling practices. On 29 May 2009, Optimum's directors (named above) each signed undertakings, provided to Derbyshire, under the Enterprise Act in which they agreed to refrain from conduct in breach of consumer protection legislation. However, Derbyshire continued to receive complaints from consumers and therefore began to gather further evidence, including witness statements from complainants and further information from Optimum.

Derbyshire and the OFT agreed for the case to be transferred to the OFT for further investigation because, following its market study on the mobility aids sector, the OFT had made enforcement action in this sector a priority. 

Consultation

The evidence obtained by Derbyshire, together with further evidence gathered by the OFT, suggested that some of Optimum's selling practices continued to infringe consumer protection legislation. As required by the Enterprise Act, the OFT consulted with Optimum and its directors. The aim was to ensure that the alleged infringements were not continued or repeated and to give the company and its directors an opportunity to comply with the law, thereby avoiding the need for formal court action. Gary Frederick Price was the only director of Optimum remaining by the time the OFT began its investigation. Linda Anne Price and Christopher Richard Hayball had both resigned but were included in the investigation because it also covered the period when they were directors.

The OFT set out its concerns about the types of business practice being used and asked Optimum and its current and former directors ('the defendants') to respond. The practices included, among other matters:

  • falsely claiming to be, or giving the impression of being, connected to public bodies such as the NHS
  • failing to make clear the sales purpose of telephone calls and visits to consumers
  • excessively-long sales visits to vulnerable consumers' homes
  • offering credit to consumers without holding a consumer credit licence
  • failing to provide and/or honour consumers' cancellation rights.

The OFT considered that the responses received from the defendants were not adequate to address these issues. The OFT therefore informed the defendants that, as a next step, it would be applying to the court for enforcement orders concerning:

  • using unfair commercial practices prohibited by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 to induce vulnerable consumers to purchase mobility aids
  • carrying on an ancillary credit business without a licence, contrary to the Consumer Credit Act 1974 
  • failing to afford consumers their rights under the Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer's Home or Place of Work etc. Regulations 2008.

The above practices were similar to those that the defendants had agreed to cease in the undertakings which they signed and provided to Derbyshire in May 2009.

Court action

On 20 March 2012, the OFT applied to Derby County Court for Enforcement Orders against the defendants under sections 215 and 218 of the Enterprise Act. The claim was served on the defendants on 26 March 2012. Derby County Court made an Order on 20 March 2012 to transfer the claim to Nottingham County Court.

On 30 March 2012, the OFT successfully secured final enforcement orders with penal notices against Gary Frederick Price and Linda Anne Price by consent. The terms of these Orders, and the conduct to be ceased, are below (see Related documents below). The Orders were approved and sealed by His Honour Judge Inglis at Derby County Court on 2 April 2012.

Optimum, and Christopher Richard Hayball both failed to respond to the OFT's claim. On 10 May 2012, the OFT applied for default judgment against Optimum and Christopher Richard Hayball and on 26 June 2012 secured enforcement orders with penal notices against them.

Creditor’s Voluntary Liquidation

Optimum had entered into voluntary liquidation on 29 February 2012, appointing Mazars of Leeds as its liquidator.

Terms of the Enforcement Orders against the Defendants:

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