Two retailers of hearing aids have been taken to court after admitting they deceived pensioners by making false and misleading claims about booking deadlines and product inclusions in order to boost sales.
According to the ACCC, Oticon Australia and Sonic Innovations sold more than 10,000 hearing aids under the AudioClinic and HearingLife brands between June and November 2017.
That was despite their advertisements for the products containing incorrect assertions.
The hearing aids are fully subsidised by Medicare for Australian pensioners, but the ads of both companies asserted that the free products could only be obtained by booking a hearing test at their clinic before a specified deadline, when no deadline actually existed.
In addition, the ads suggested the free hearing aids included wireless technology, which was not the case. In fact, this technology was only available through the purchase of additional accessories.
The ACCC also took exception to the claims that users of the hearing aids would no longer miss out on hearing any conversations – an overgeneralisation that is highly dependent on the nature of someone’s hearing impairment.
“Hearing aid advertisements have a powerful effect on purchasing decisions. The ads must be accurate and truthful, especially given that many of the people buying hearing aids may be vulnerable due to their age,” said ACCC commissioner Sarah Court.
“The AudioClinic and HearingLife advertisements were targeted at pensioners. Consumers who receive hearing aids under the Hearing Program are, on average, aged in their late 70s.”
As part of its petition to the Federal Court, the ACCC is seeking penalties worth $2.5 million, and enforcement of a commitment by both companies to refund customers for the cost of the additional equipment that had been advertised as included.
“This action is part of our broader work to address some concerning practices in the industry after we first put hearing clinics on notice about our concerns in 2017,” Ms Court said.
“We encourage consumers to shop around for the best deal, compare offers, and choose a hearing aid that is right for their needs. We expect to make a further announcement about enforcement action against another hearing clinic shortly.”
Both Oticon and Sonic Innovations are owned by Danish healthcare company William Demant Holdings. Together, they operate more than 200 hearing clinics all over Australia.