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Worse than water: Choice’s 2020 Shonky awards shames cleaning products, air purifiers and Harvey Norman | Money

An electronics retailer setting their customers up for “crippling debt”, a funeral provider hiding prices from grieving families, and cleaning products that perform worse than water are among brands Australian consumers are being urged to avoid.

Choice magazine’s latest Shonky awards, which “uncover and call out practices from companies taking advantage of their customers”, warned against a “pathetic” air purifier that “barely” purifies any air, and a company targeting older Australians with a health survey that uses the data generated to sell them beds.

Customers walk in for a toaster and walk out with crippling debt

Harvey Norman was called out by Choice this year for “a toxic partnership” with Latitude Finance, where the retailer tries to sell customers a credit card “with an eye-watering interest rate” of 22.74%, said Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland.

“The banking royal commission uncovered many behaviours that were hurting people. This included businesses exploiting an exemption from credit laws to sell credit cards in stores, without checking whether the person can afford to repay the debt,” he said.

“The cash rate is at a record low so there’s no justification for cards this expensive. Customers walk in for a television or toaster and walk out with crippling debt.”

Kirkland said financial counsellors and community legal centres had specifically complained that the Harvey Norman Latitude GO Mastercard card was problematic and had led to financial hardship in customers.

Kirkland said Harvey Norman has been able to sell the card because as a retailer they are exempt from the basic checks finance companies are required to make to ensure customers won’t be harmed by a product.

He warned that the federal government’s move to reduce most lenders’ responsible lending obligations could make credit cards like the one Harvey Norman sells the norm, and could “send our country into a debt disaster”.

“On this Harvey Norman Latitude Mastercard GO card, a purchase of $5,000 at 22.74% would leave someone making the minimum repayments paying back $17,909 over 29 years. With Latitude, Harvey Norman is selling one of the most expensive credit cards on the market and it needs to end now,” he said.

A Latitude spokesman told Guardian Australia the company “undertakes a rigorous credit check and capacity assessment of every credit applicant, in full compliance with laws including responsible lending obligations”.

“Credit is never issued without first determining the creditworthiness of applicants and ensuring borrowers have the capacity to repay. Our delinquency rates are comparable to the major banks and better than many smaller lenders, demonstrating that the customers Latitude is approving are credit worthy,” the spokesman said.

Profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark

Choice also criticised InvoCare, the parent company of White Lady Funerals and Simplicity Funerals, for adhering to a new New South Wales law requiring funeral providers to disclose clear price lists to customers, but allegedly hiding this pricing information when advertising services to all other states.

A mock funeral wreath surrounded by money over the InvoCare logo. InvoCare are one of the ‘winners’ of the 2020 Shonky awards for ‘profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark’.

A mock funeral wreath surrounded by money over the InvoCare logo. InvoCare are one of the ‘winners’ of the 2020 Shonky awards. Photograph: GeneRoss/Choice Australia

Choice campaigner Amy Pereira alleged “InvoCare is profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark”.

“NSW made funeral companies display their prices upfront so families wouldn’t be taken advantage of. Companies like InvoCare have done the bare minimum, leaving grieving families in the rest of Australia behind.

“Providing your customers with itemised prices online is a bare-minimum expectation that the funeral industry fails to meet. Without these prices online, families who have lost a loved one can’t easily compare their options during a difficult and time-sensitive period,” Pereira said.

In a statement, InvoCare told Guardian Australia it “strongly supports transparency in pricing and was the first group to meet new industry standards around pricing transparency, which were developed by NSW Fair Work Trading”.

“As part of our commitment to industry best practice, these standards are being rolled out nationally,” the statement said.

Water outperforming floor cleaners

Choice has awarded the entire retail category of floor cleaners a Shonky award, however it singled out Coles’ Ultra Floor Cleaner and Bunnings’ Long Life All Purpose Cleaner as receiving “lower scores than plain water” in its testing of the products.

A selection of ‘winning’ floor cleaners.

A selection of ‘winning’ floor cleaners that Choice say are less effective than water. Photograph: GeneRoss/Choice Australia

In Choice’s product testing, other floor cleaners either tied with water or performed slightly better than water.

“Floor cleaners are little more than perfume for your floor,” Choice testing expert Ashley Iredale said.

“If you want your floors clean you can just use a plain old bucket of hot water. Save your money,” Iredale said.

Guardian Australia has contacted Coles and Bunnings for comment.

Air purifier that ‘doesn’t really do anything’

In its testing of air purifier products that have been marketed to Australians following the Black Summer bushfires and amid Covid-19 concerns, Choice found one purifier, the Greentech Pure Air 500​, was so ineffective that “tests couldn’t detect any difference in air quality”.

“The two Greentech models we tested performed so poorly that we basically couldn’t detect them doing anything at all,” Choice testing expert Chris Barnes said of the Pure Air 500 (a $179 “paperweight”) and the company’s more expensive Pure Air 3000 model, which it sells for $889.

“For [bushfire] smoke, an air purifier can help, provided your home is well sealed. ​Regarding Covid-19 and other germs, an air purifier might help, but it’s not a solution on its own,” Barnes.

“Those who will get the most benefit out of an air purifier are people with asthma or allergies or those who live in areas with a high level of pollution,” he said.

Guardian Australia has contacted Greentech for comment.

Choice found the Greentech Pure Air 500 was so ineffective that ‘tests couldn’t detect any difference in air quality’.

Choice found the Greentech Pure Air 500 was so ineffective that ‘tests couldn’t detect any difference in air quality’. Photograph: GeneRoss/Choice Australia

Clinical trial of six people

Bed company Revitalife has also been awarded a Shonky, after customers and law professionals alerted Choice to its alleged sales tactic.

Choice consumer law expert Julia Steward alleged Revitalife “uses a ‘health survey’ to target people with health worries”.

“This company promises to help customers with their health needs but then sells them expensive beds with dubious health claims. Revitalife makes huge claims about the benefits of their beds based on a single clinical trial of six people.

“This just isn’t good enough. Revitalife is targeting older Australians through a shonky sales scheme and selling sleep remedies that aren’t supported by credible evidence,” Steward alleged.

Guardian Australia has contacted Revitalife for comment. A law firm acting on behalf of Revitalife told the ABC the company could produce “thousands of positive testimonials of satisfied customers”.

It said: “Revitalife strongly denies any statement that implies it leads its customers into uniformed purchasing decisions.”

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