Allegations of questionable credit practices, unclear funeral pricing and deceptive sales tactics have put five products and businesses in the firing line for this year’s Shonky awards.
The annual awards, handed out by consumer advocacy group Choice, name and shame brands it says have failed to give Australian consumers a fair deal.
Harvey Norman and InvoCare funerals are the big brands to feature in this year’s awards.
Choice CEO Alan Kirkland said companies it alleged preyed on vulnerable Australians had been called out.
“InvoCare – the company behind White Lady Funerals and Simplicity Funerals – has done everything it can to avoid being upfront with grieving families about cost,” he said.
InvoCare is behind nearly 40 brands and is the dominant player in Australia’s funeral industry.
Choice says a mystery shopper exercise conducted in the industry in 2019 revealed some businesses would not provide an itemised list of expenses and they gave wide-ranging quotes for the same services.
An earlier investigation led to funeral pricing being mandatory in some state and territories, but not others.
“InvoCare provides prices for NSW and ACT funerals on its website, but doesn’t provide grieving people in other states with the same information,” Mr Kirkland said.
But in response, a spokesperson for InvoCare said funeral pricing was being rolled out nationally as part of the company’s “commitment to industry best practice”.
The spokesperson said InvoCare “strongly supports transparency in pricing and was the first group to meet new industry standards”.
Harvey Norman’s partnership with Latitude Finance came under the spotlight in 2019 when it was revealed vulnerable people with low financial literacy had been signed up to credit cards in store in Alice Springs.
The company entered into repayment proceedings as a result, but Choice said the “high-interest” cards were still promoted at Harvey Norman stores in the same way.
“Financial counsellors and community legal centres across Australia have seen that Latitude credit cards sold at Harvey Norman harm people experiencing financial vulnerability,” Choice campaigner Patrick Veyret said.
“Something needs to be done about Harvey Norman and Latitude charging 22.74 per cent interest rates.”
A spokesperson for Latitude Finance said the company conducted responsible lending practices.
“Latitude undertakes a rigorous credit check and capacity assessment of all our credit applicants to determine their credit worthiness.
“The vast majority of customers who purchase interest free using these cards pay off what they owe within the promotional period and therefore pay no interest whatsoever.”
‘Tip-offs’ put bed supplier under spotlight
Bed supplier Revitalife has also received a Shonky award for what Choice has called “a sales scheme that needs to be put to bed”.
Choice investigated the company following “a number of tip-offs” salespeople visited elderly people in their homes and pressured them to buy expensive beds, some worth $7000.
Mr Kirkland said the company used 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,” he said.
“We believe Revitalife has breached the Australian consumer law by engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct.”
He said Choice had written to the ACCC asking it to act on the allegations.
A law firm acting on behalf of Revitalife said 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.”
Greentech Air Purifiers and floor cleaners from Coles and Bunnings have also been given a Shonky award for allegedly not performing as advertised.