ASA Adjudication on Acorn Mobility Services Ltd
Acorn Mobility Services Ltd t/a
Millennium Business Park
26 September 2012
Number of complaints:
A press ad for Acorn Stairlifts was headed "Next Day Installation" and stated "Direct from the manufacturer - New or reconditioned - Free home trial - Local surveyors - Local engineers - Rent or buy".
The complainant challenged whether the claim "Free home trial" was misleading.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
Acorn Mobility Services Ltd trading as Acorn Stairlifts (Acorn) said they provided free home trials upon request that involved them fully installing a working stairlift inside the customer's home, so that it would be available for the customer to keep if they wished. They said they did not take a deposit and so customers could then try it out without charge. If customers experienced it working successfully they would then pay for it, however, if they decided not to keep it, the stairlift and rail would be removed free of charge.
They said they were very rarely asked for the free home trial and as a result some of their recently recruited sales agents had not been properly briefed on this service. They said that after being notified of this complaint they had retrained all their staff on the procedures for free home trials. Acorn also said there may be occasions where customers decided they did not want a free home trial as it would leave holes in their carpet, and in such cases they would arrange for them to visit a neighbouring house which already had an Acorn stairlift. There might also be occasions where a free home trial would be impractical, for example if a bespoke design was required due to an unusual staircase.
Acorn said they had provided two free home trials in the past few months, and provided order forms for these. They said there were no specific terms attached to the free home trial.
The complainant said that when their grandmother responded to the ad she was told that the free home trial involved either visiting another home nearby that had a stairlift installed, or a van containing a chair visiting her home for her to try inside the vehicle. The ASA understood that some new members of staff were not aware of the free home trial as it was not requested often, but that Acorn had subsequently retrained all relevant staff. However, we noted that Acorn had provided an assurance to the ASA in 2009 that they would ensure free home trials were available, and were concerned that not all relevant staff were aware of them. Acorn provided order forms for two customers who had taken up the free home trial offer in the last three months. The order forms appeared to be standard forms filled in by sales agents when ordering a stairlift for a customer. Both forms showed that no deposit had been paid. However, they both showed a cost for the stairlift and described this as "what you now owe", and neither form referred to a free trial. Both forms were signed by the customer under the declaration "I agree to pay the amount I owe to the person fitting the stairlift". We considered that consumers would expect a free home trial to involve a trial of the product in their own home, without an obligation to purchase it. Whilst we acknowledged that Acorn said these customers were not obliged to pay for the product if they decided not to keep it, we did not consider that consumers would expect to have to sign a sales contract to access a free trial. We did not consider that Acorn had demonstrated that the free home trial was available to consumers at the time the ad appeared, or that the trial was genuinely a "free home trial" as consumers would understand it. We concluded the claim was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
We told Acorn not to repeat the claim "free home trial" unless they could demonstrate that they offered this service and that customers were not committed to purchasing the product prior to the trial commencing.