Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Choosing a stairlift

Four steps to choosing and buying a stairlift

Woman on stairliftYou can't just order a stairlift off the peg - it has to suit you and your home.

Stairlift companies will visit you at home to:

  • talk about what you need and how you'll use the lift
  • check your stairs and work out how the lift might be fitted 
  • either give you a quote during this visit or send it to you soon afterwards

These visits are made without obligation - don't be put under any pressure to buy.

Use our checklist of key questions to ask company reps.

There are four steps to take when you're deciding on a stairlift:

  1. Contact a number of companies
  2. Discuss your options
  3. Compare costs
  4. Ask questions

1. Contact more than one stairlift company

Prices vary a lot, so we recommend trying at least three companies. Different manufacturers offer different ranges of stairlifts, too, so you may have to try more than one to find the lift that works best for you and your home.

It's best to contact firms that aren't tied to any one make of stairlift, so you'll have a wider choice. 

Find stairlift companies through:

When you contact the firms, you may be asked a few simple questions about your stairs and they'll arrange an appointment to visit you.

Look for companies that are members of one or more of the following organisations:

The lifts themselves should meet the relevant British Standard (BS 5776:1996) and conform to European health and safety regulations - look for the CE mark.

2. Discuss your stairlift requirements and options

Stairlift on curved stairsWhen the manufacturer or supplier visits, the rep will measure your stairs and you. They usually just need to know the length of your leg when sitting, to make sure there's no danger of you grazing your knees as you go up and down the stairs. If your stairs have a particularly low ceiling, they may measure your height when sitting down.

They'll also need to know your weight. They should ask you about your mobility. Expect questions that will help you choose the right control, including whether you are left- or right-handed.

The rep should give you full details of their range and tell you about the products that will suit you best. You should think about what you'll be able to manage in the future, as well as what you find easy now.

Here are some of the main options - make sure you discuss any that are important to you:

Swivel seats 

These let you turn to face the landing to get on and off more easily. The swivel locks in place, so there's no danger of any movement if you push on the arm rest to stand up. Some swivel seats are powered.

Choice of colours and upholstery

Some lifts have a greater choice than others. Some firms will paint the lift any colour, and cover the upholstery in any fabric you like.

Easy-to-use controls 

You should be able to choose between right- and left-handed controls. They should offer other choices, including levers that are easy to use even if you have little grip or strength. Check that you'll be able to easily hold the control in place for as long as it takes to get up or down the stairs. Some lifts have remote controls.

A good rep will have a selection of controls for you to try before deciding.

Hand-held remote controls and wall controls

You can use these to call the lift or send it back up or down the stairs. This is very useful if more than one person in your household uses the stairlift. Check how many remote controls are supplied - some firms give you two as a matter of course. Remote control and wall controls can also be used by an assistant, who can control the lift for you.

Safety belt 

These are fitted on many lifts as standard. Check that you can fasten your belt easily. Can you choose which side it fastens on? If you need more support than a belt will give, many lifts can be supplied with a more elaborate harness.

Lock 

If you have children visiting and they want to play on the stairlift, a lock is useful to help avoid accidents.

Comfortable seats 

All stairlifts have padded seats. If you can, try them out for comfort before you buy. The manufacturer or supplier should be able to tell you where you can do this - many companies provide local mobility shops with demonstration models for people to try. Check that the lift moves off quietly and smoothly.

Footrest raisers

All lifts have a platform on which you rest your feet. Both the seat and this platform flip up so that the lift doesn't take up much space when not in use. If you have difficulty bending to lift the footrest up, look for a model which raises the footrest automatically.

3. Compare stairlift costs and service

Stairlifts - compare costs and serviceYou need to think about costs and the service offered. Take into account the after-sales service offered and the length of guarantee, as well as what the lift itself is worth. Some companies will provide a firm quote - you either take it or leave it. Others may be open to negotiation. It may help you to get a better price if you tell the company that you're getting quotes from more than one firm.

Think carefully about accepting a 'special offer'

You may find that a company can offer you a discount or a cheap deal on a particular model. Usually, you have to sign up quickly to get this discount. You may be told that a 'cancelled' order means that a lift has suddenly become available that just happens to fit your home and can be offered to you at a reduced cost.

While you will get the lift for the price promised, the lift may not be the one that suits you best. Consider carefully if it would be a good choice for you. The British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) Code of Practice, devised with the Office of Fair Trading, bans its members from price dropping and other pressurised selling techniques.

Consumer advice

Be prepared with information provided to help older consumers deal with high-pressure sales tactics on the doorstep. The Office of Fair Trading's Doorstep Selling Campaign used to offer this, but their role has been taken over by Citizens Advice.

See their pages about buying wisely on the doorstep and handling sales approaches for more information on how to protect yourself.

4. Ask questions

Here are some questions you may want to ask the rep:

How long would the work take?

You may be surprised by how quickly a lift can be supplied and fitted - often within a week of the first call. Stairlifts usually take only a few hours to fit; one manufacturer claims less than an hour for a straight stairway.

How much mess is caused by installation?

Lifts are attached to the stairs rather than the wall, and do not involve any major building work. You can expect the company to tidy up after the lift is fitted. You shouldn't have to repaint or redecorate afterwards.

What happens if I no longer need the stairlift?

If you move house or rearrange your home so that you don't have to use the stairs, you may no longer need the lift. Some companies will buy the lift back - it can be reconditioned and resold. But the costs of removal and refurbishment mean you'll probably only get a fraction of the price back. Ask them:

  • How much the company would offer to buy it back,
  • What conditions might apply, such as the age of the lift or whether it's been regularly serviced by them,
  • If the price depends on the age and condition of the stairlift,
  • How quickly they would be able to do this, and
  • Would they remove it for free and make good any damage to the walls or stairs?

If you think you'll only be needing a lift for a short period, you might consider renting a stairlift.

What about after-sales service?

  • Guarantee: check the period offered - all lifts will have a year's guarantee, but some manufacturers give you a more generous two years.
  • Repairs: stairlifts are reliable, so these should be rare. Ask when the call centre is open and how long it takes before an engineer will visit. Get details of call-out and additional hourly charges.
  • Maintenance contract or extended warranty: you can buy these at the time of purchase or when the original guarantee runs out. The usual deal is that for an annual fee you'll get an annual service visit and free repairs. Some manufacturers offer variations such as an annual service plus reduced rates for an engineer's visit, if the lift needs repair.
  • Battery: check that the maintenance contract covers the battery - many don't.

While maintenance contracts may give you peace of mind, you should think about whether it would be cheaper to pay for repairs as you go.

Know your consumer rights

Check to see if you know your rights when buying goods and services online or when visiting shops.
Go to the consumer rights page here.

Last updated: November 2016


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