Nov 2018 Great Southern Weekender

Hearing aid retailers Oticon Australia and Sonic Innovations have been ordered to pay penalties totalling $2.5 million for misleading pensioners about devices sold by two clinic chains that operate across the Great Southern. Oticon and Sonic Innovations admitted its newspaper advertisements contained three false and misleading representations about hearing aids available to pensioners under the Federal hearing services program. ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said many pensioners targeted by the ads 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,” she said. “This conduct is unacceptable particularly because it targeted vulnerable pensioners.”

The Federal Court imposed penalties of $2.5 million, and ordered that the companies offer refunds to customers and publish a corrective notice in a nationally circulated newspaper. “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,” Ms Court said.

The companies misled consumers by claiming that to obtain a free hearing aid, pensioners had to book a test at an AudioClinic or HearingLife clinic before the deadline in the ad. In fact, there was no time limit.  There are AudioClinics at Lockyer Avenue in Albany, and on Mount Shadforth Road in Denmark. HearingLife has a clinic at Katanning Hospital. Neither chain of clinics was on trial and there was no ruling against them.

Oticon and Sonic Innovations also misled consumers by claiming the free hearing aids included wireless technology that could be connected to televisions and mobile phones. The wireless technology was in fact an accessory sold separately at extra cost. A claim that users of the advertised hearing aid would no longer miss conversations – when in fact that depends on a person’s circumstances and the nature of their hearing impairment – also landed Oticon and Sonic Innovations in hot water.

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