Disabled consumers' costs targeted
Disabled people should be "bold and loud" and demand more as consumers to combat the financial penalties they face over everyday living costs, an inquiry has found.
Businesses are being encouraged to improve the experiences of disabled customers and better recognise the value of the so-called "purple pound" - valued at £212 billion.
The Government and regulators are also being urged to intervene when unfair extra costs are heaped on disabled people.
The year-long inquiry of the Extra Costs Commission was launched after research by the charity Scope found that those with disabilities face an average financial penalty of £550 a month for everyday living costs, compared with around £360 they receive through benefit payments.
The study, by a panel of business leaders, economists and consumer affairs experts, was based on evidence that less competitive markets push up costs for disabled people, who often face paying over the odds for products, having a reduced choice or having to buy more expensive items.
It explored how competition and better consumer information in key markets could drive down the cost of goods and services disabled people and their families need, reducing the impact of the extra costs of disability.
In a survey of 2,500 disabled people and their families and 85 businesses, the commission also found that 75% of disabled people and their families have left a shop or business because of poor customer service and a lack of disability awareness, and that businesses are missing out on their share of £420 million of revenue a week.
In a series of recommendations, the commission urged disabled people to demand more as consumers, "adopt the identity of disability positively" to attract the interest of businesses, share information with each other on ways to reduce costs and speak out when companies and disability organisations fail to fully meet their needs.
Disability organisations were recommended to improve information and services to disabled people and businesses to help drive down costs, such as promoting collective switching and group purchasing schemes for energy and insurance, and exploring bulk purchasing schemes for specialised equipment and things such as clothing and bedding.
Business organisations should develop incentives to encourage reducing costs for disabled people, companies should improve services using feedback and the insurance industry should better understand how the market works for disabled people.
Regulators and the Government should also intervene when features of markets create an unfair financial burden for disabled people, the commission recommended.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) should investigate whether disabled people have access to insurance that fairly reflects risk, and the Government should adopt proposals by the Law Commission on taxis and private hire vehicles that support disabled people in obtaining a more equal and fairly priced service, it advised.
Robin Hindle Fisher, a fund manager and chairman of the Extra Costs Commission, said that while many businesses had taken steps to improve services for disabled people, more needs to be done and firms still do not recognise the "substantial" value of the purple pound.
He said: "It is very clear that life costs more if you are disabled. The Extra Costs Commission has focused on finding market-based initiatives that can alleviate the impact that extra costs have on the lives of disabled people.
"Maintaining the value of benefits is absolutely critical, but the commission believes better functioning markets and increased competition can also play a part in improving services and driving down costs.
"The commission has seen positive examples of businesses taking steps to improve their service for disabled people. Yet much more needs to be done - a shocking three quarters of disabled people have left a shop or business because of poor disability awareness."
He added: "Disabled people and their families have considerable spending power. But in order to capitalise on this, we need to come together as a collective consumer group.
"We want disabled people to be bold and loud - share information about their needs as shoppers, complain and speak up when dissatisfied and demand more as consumers. Only then will businesses start to recognise the value of the 'purple pound', in the way that they do the 'pink' and 'grey' consumer markets."
Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Disabled People, said: "This report makes some important points about the power that disabled people can wield in the market place and the way that businesses can benefit by making their services accessible.
"It's a real credit to Scope, and as the Minister for Disabled People I will continue to look at ways we can encourage different groups to work together to improve the consumer experience for people living with disabilities."