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Shonky success stories

How the Shonky Awards have led to some amazing wins for consumers.

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Last updated: 26 October 2021
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

For the past 60 years, CHOICE testing has helped everyday Australians sort the good products and services from the bad and the unsafe. 

Some products we've looked at are clearly a waste of money – such as the insurance policy against alien abduction. Other products are more subtle. At first glance they may appear to be perfectly fine, only to prove shonky later on once you've already parted with your cash.

Those are the products we're particularly interested in shining a light on, and were the inspiration for the launch of the first ever CHOICE Shonky Awards in 2006. 

More than 120 Shonkys awarded

Since then, we've awarded more than 120 Shonkys to businesses or products for a range of reasons including misleading marketing claims, ripping off consumers and being downright dangerous.

The awards were created to raise awareness of shonky products and services among Australians, and to put pressure on businesses and the government to ensure that what we buy is safe, and works. 

We've had some amazing wins as a result. Here are just seven of them.

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Dollarmites' shonky behaviour included promoting credit cards to kids. Image: Commbank.com.au

1. Dollarmites

Following years of campaign work, in 2018 CHOICE awarded the Commonwealth Bank's school banking program a Shonky for being nothing more than a marketing scheme aimed at locking in customers from a young age. 

We followed up with a submission to a 2019 ASIC inquiry, revealing that the Dollarmites program had been promoting credit card products to Year 3 students, and in 2020 had our first big win when Victoria banned the program. Not long after, the ACT and Queensland followed suit.

There's no place for multi-billion dollar financial corporations, especially those with a rap sheet as long as Commonwealth Bank, in our schools

But with the program still spruiking its products to children in other states, CHOICE continued to call for an Australia-wide ban. 

"There's no place for multi-billion dollar financial corporations, especially those with a rap sheet as long as Commonwealth Bank, in our schools," said our banking campaigner Patrick Veyret.

Then, in a huge win for consumers, CommBank revealed they were ditching Dollarmites for good, just days after NSW announced plans to scrap the program.

"With the end of Dollarmites, we can feel confident that students will get lessons in financial literacy instead of bank loyalty," says CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.

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We shone a light on InvoCare's shonky pricing practices.

2. InvoCare funeral operator

Our in-depth 2019 investigation into the funeral industry exposed several dodgy pricing practices at InvoCare, the largest funeral operator in Australia and owner of White Lady Funerals, Simplicity Funerals, Guardian Funerals and more. 

After discovering the company was charging a late payment fee masquerading as an "administration fee", we submitted a complaint to the ACCC arguing that the funeral giant had breached consumer law. 

In February 2020 we celebrated a partial win for consumers when InvoCare announced it would remove the fee. 

InvoCare is profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark, we said

But InvoCare's unwillingness to be upfront about the true cost of funeral packages (outside of NSW and Victoria, where new legislation was introduced following our investigation) saw it pick up a Shonky Award in 2020. "InvoCare is profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark… they need to be upfront with all Australians and provide itemised costs for services online," we said. 

With pressure from more than 5460 Australians who emailed their local consumer affairs ministers about the issue, one month later InvoCare rolled out itemised funeral prices online nationally. 

This was a huge win for Australians that led to big savings. Greater transparency for bereaved consumers means they can decide whether or not they want or need all of the services on offer. 

3. Pet insurance policies

In 2019, we gave the entire pet insurance industry a Shonky for being expensive and confusing, and for offering policies with so many exclusions and conditions that they were basically pointless.

By shining a light on the issue, insurers have consequently reached out to CHOICE to take our concerns on board and make positive changes to their policies. For example, most policies now provide full coverage for out-of-hours emergency care, or if your pet got sick with an illness it was previously vaccinated against. 

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Following their 2019 win, the pet insurance industry made positive changes to their policies.

This is a huge win for pet owners, especially those whose furry friends have pre-existing conditions. 

"Previously, you weren't covered if you took out insurance after your pet developed a pre-existing condition," says Uta Mihm, CHOICE pet insurance expert.

"Now, most insurers will cover that for new customers for a range of conditions as long as the condition is fully cured and they've been symptom-free for a period of time."

Before buying pet insurance, make sure you read the policy so you know what your pet is covered for. See our pet insurance buying guide for more information. 

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We hit Qantas with some Shonky turbulence in 2009 for its soaring credit-card surcharges.

4. Sky-high credit card surcharges

For years, any Australian who used a credit card to pay for a product or service was punished in the form of excessive surcharges that didn't reflect the real cost of credit card processing.

The airline industry was one of the worst offenders, which is why we awarded Qantas a Shonky in 2009. They took the prize for applying a whopping 517% markup to a credit card booking for a $500 international flight to Fiji. 

Looking at domestic flights, their fees were still excessive – applying a 375% markup to a $200 Sydney-Melbourne return flight. Low-cost airline Tiger were also guilty of massive markups – applying a 641% mark up on the same flight – which is why they were named Shonky runner-up. 

In 2016, the federal government passed new legislation banning excessive payment surcharges

CHOICE's long-running campaign to end excessive credit card fees led to even more Shonkys (Cabcharge, and Ticketmaster and Ticketek) and a partial win in 2013 when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) gave credit card companies the go ahead to clamp down on businesses gouging consumers with excessive fees. 

But we knew more could be done and continued to lobby for further reforms to the industry until 2016, when the federal government passed new legislation banning excessive payment surcharges and providing new powers for the ACCC to crack down on companies doing the wrong thing. 

This was a huge win for Australians as it saved them literally millions of dollars in excessive fees.

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Bitter pill – Nurofen's dodgy 'targeted pain relief' claim earned it a Shonky in 2010.

5. Targeted pain relief

In 2010 CHOICE awarded Nurofen a Shonky for its dodgy targeted pain relief products. The company offered a range of higher priced caplets for migraine, back, tension headache and period pain, and claimed that each product was formulated to treat a specific area. 

A fast-acting painkiller that goes directly to the source? It sounded too good to be true. And it was. The reality was that all the 'targeted relief' products contained the same active ingredient, meaning it would have the same effect throughout the body, regardless of the area of pain.

The ACCC later took action against Reckitt Benckiser (the manufacturer of Nurofen), accusing them of engaging in misleading conduct. In 2016, the full federal court ordered them to pay a $6 million fine and to remove the targeted pain products from shelves. 

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Samsung's washer and dryer won a 2017 Shonky for taking 6.5 hours to dry a load.

6. Samsung washer and dryer

Samsung have received multiple nominations over the years, notably for concerns in relation to their products catching fire. But their 2017 nod was for selling a $3000 lemon, namely the Samsung WD16J9845KG washer/dryer combo.

When testing this model in the CHOICE labs we uncovered a host of problems, most notably that it used a massive 210 litres of water and took six-and-a-half hours to dry a load. This led it to receive a score of zero in our drying time test. 

"In the time it takes to dry a load of clothes, you could nab a cheap fare from Sydney to the Gold Coast and dry them on the beach every week for nearly a year instead of buying this shonky product," we said at the time.

Following the publication of our test results, Samsung contacted CHOICE for more data about our product testing. The model was discontinued shortly afterwards.  

Samsung Washer Dryer – CHOICE Shonky Awards 2017

CHOICE white goods expert Ashley Iredale mixes business and pleasure on the Gold Coast.

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Wash out – the entire insurance industry won a Shonky in 2011 for failing to define a "flood".

7. The insurance industry

In the summer of 2010 to 2011, widespread flooding devastated Queensland and parts of NSW and Victoria, resulting in the loss of life and billions of dollars worth of damage. 

But when rebuilding efforts began, thousands of homeowners were horrified to discover their insurance, which they'd been paying for years in the event of such a disaster, wouldn't cover them. 

Why? Because the insurance industry had failed to come up with a standard definition for flood, meaning many policies had a series of carve-outs and restrictions that left many consumers without cover. We even heard stories about people in the same street affected by the same flood receiving completely different outcomes when making a claim. 

CHOICE awarded the whole industry a Shonky in 2011 and lobbied industry and government to come up with a solution that didn't leave Australians without a home after a flood. 

One year later, the federal government took action and amended the Insurance Contracts Regulations 1985 to finally include a standard definition of flood, although it didn't take effect until 2014. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.