The OFT has launched an investigation into 'doorstep selling' following a super-complaint from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux.
A wide range of goods and services are sold in the home – including financial services and mortgages.
While this facility is useful for many consumers - and indeed for some it is essential - and many sales are trouble free there have been cases if mis-selling.
The law gives consumers certain rights but these can depend on whether visits were solicited or unsolicited. There also appears to be some evidence, including that from NACAB, of practices such as high-pressure sales techniques and reliance on unfair contract terms.
These can be particularly damaging to more vulnerable consumers. As a result the OFT has decided to examine what is going on in more detail and will use its investigation powers – currently under Section 2 of the Fair Trading Act 1973 – to carry out a wide-ranging investigation into this area.
The investigation will examine what goods and services are commonly sold in the home, problems experienced by consumers buying this way and why problems are associated with some products and services and not others. The OFT will also carry out case studies in some areas, such as home improvements and assisted products, examine the role of credit and look at the range of statutory and voluntary safeguards for consumers.
Penny Boys, OFT deputy director general, says: “Buying in the home has many advantages for consumers – particularly those who rely on this facility such as the housebound. The aim of this investigation is to get a better understanding of this area, assess if any action is called for, and if so, what would be most effective.”
The investigation will be carried out by the Markets and Policy Initiatives division of the OFT.
The possible outcomes of the investigation include:
enforcement action by the OFT's competition and consumer regulation divisions
a reference of the market to the Competition Commission
recommendations that Government consider changes in laws and regulations and to regulators, self-regulatory bodies and others to consider changes to their rules
campaigns to promote consumer education and awareness
a clean bill of health