ACCC takes hearing aid retailers to court

The April 2018 issue of THE VOICE featured a story on the hearing aid industry. This industry is heavily subsidised by the Australian Government through the Hearing Services Program.

The ACCC said it was “concerned about a range of business practices in the hearing services industry, particularly around incentive based sales and commissions that are commonly used to motivate clinicians to sell hearing aids”.

The ACCC has now commenced legal proceedings against hearing aid retailers Oticon Australia Pty Ltd and Sonic Innovations Pty Ltd, not because of incentives and commissions, but because these companies are alleged to have made false and misleading representations to pensioners in advertisements for hearing aids.

Oticon and Sonic have admitted that the AudioClinic and HearingLife advertisements contained false and misleading representations.

In order to obtain a free hearing aid, advertisements said, pensioners had to book a free hearing test at an AudioClinic or HearingLife clinic before the deadline in the advertisement.  There was, however, no deadline to obtain a fully-subsidised hearing aid under the Australian Hearing Program.

The companies also claimed that free hearing aids included wireless technology that would allow users to connect them to digital devices like televisions and mobile phones. However, this technology was not included with the free hearing aid, is not under the Australian Hearing Services Program, and is not free.

The companies also claimed that any user of the advertised hearing aid would no longer miss any conversations. This was an empty guarantee, because it depends on a person’s individual circumstances and the nature of his or her hearing impairment what they can hear and what they can’t.

Oticon and Sonic sold more than 10,000 of the advertised Oticon Ria2 and Sonic Cheer20 hearing aids.

Oticon and Sonic have committed to offer refunds to customers who purchased additional equipment to use with the advertised hearing aids.