Hearing-aid retailers fined $2.5m for false claims
Hearing aid retailers Oticon Australia Pty Ltd (Oticon) and Sonic Innovations Pty Ltd (Sonic) have been ordered to pay $2.5m in penalties by the Federal Court following allegations of misleading behaviour.
The two retailers were found guilty of misleading pensioners through newspaper advertisements for hearing aids sold by AudioClinc and HearingLife clinics.
HearingLife is one of Australia’s largest hearing care retailers, with over 150 locations across the country and announced a move into the franchise sector in 2010.
Three false and misleading representations about the hearing aids available to pensioners under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program were identified, which Oticon and Sonic admitted to.
The misleading representations included;
- false claims that pensioners had to book a free hearing test at an AudioClinic of HearingLife clinic before the advertised deadline, when in fact there was no time limit;
- that the free hearing aids included wireless technology with digital connectivity implications, when these were in fact additional accessoorcies sold separately at an extra cost, and,
- that the hearing aids guaranteed the user would never miss a conversation again, when this is highly dependent on individual circumstances.
Sarah Court, ACCC Commissioner said the advertisements took advantage of vulnerable pensioners, and misrepresented the Australian Government Hearing Service Program, which provides around 80 per cent of the hearing aids supplied in Australia.
“This conduct is unacceptable particularly because it targeted vulnerable pensioners. The decision from the Federal Court sends a strong message to the hearing aid industry about the importance of ensuring all representations to consumers are accurate and not misleading,” Court said.
“Many of the pensioners targeted by the advertisements were vulnerable due to their age and hearing loss. The misleading representations by Sonic and Oticon created a false sense of urgency for these consumers to book a hearing test and led them into a sales process based on incorrect information.”