While 2021 has been a difficult year in so many ways, here at CHOICE, and with the help of our supporters, we've managed a year of incredible wins for people all around Australia.
From getting the Commonwealth Bank's school-based marketing program Dollarmites out of the classroom, to saving safe lending laws (for now) and stamping out the unethical practice of landlord insurance providers going after renters, it's been a busy year.
Blowing the whistle on shonky business
In March, the ACCC issued an infringement notice for Propel Funeral Partners for making false and misleading claims about its "local and independent" ownership. The fine comes after we discovered instances of misinformation and poor transparency in the funeral sector. Another provider, Alex Gow Funerals, was fined in September.
Also in March, Hitachi customers were handed back $174 after testing in CHOICE labs found that the fridges used more energy than Hitachi claimed.
Our labs also discovered a strangulation risk for children in the Mamakiddies Happy Dino Portable Travel Cot, which was later recalled around Australia, potentially saving young lives.
The Mamakiddies Happy Dino Portable Travel Cot, which failed our lab safety tests, was later recalled around Australia.
Dollarmites bites the dust
Since 2016 we've expressed our concerns about the Commonwealth Bank's marketing to children through its school-based Dollarmites schemes. In 2018, we gave the bank a Shonky Award for its efforts.
In April, Queensland and the ACT followed Victoria's lead and banned the bank's program from its schools. By October, NSW had followed suit.
With the writing on the wall, Commonwealth Bank decided to pull the pin on Dollarmites from the remaining states and territories. This means schoolchildren around Australia will now get independent financial literacy programs – not sophisticated bank marketing.
Winning crucial reforms
As COVID continued to reap travel chaos around the country, NSW introduced an information minimum standard to help people better understand what happens if their trip is cancelled.
The move in November came about after our investigation into people's experiences of travel cancellations and refunds, and a report calling for better information rights for consumers.
The move in November came about after our investigation into people's experiences of travel cancellations and refunds
Meanwhile, in Canberra, the federal government's efforts to overturn safe lending laws, which protect consumers, was thwarted – for now – when the senate crossbench stood up to protect the regulations.
We were one of the many community organisations and consumer advocates who came together and lobbied the crossbench intensely to defend these regulations.
We exposed insurance companies for billing renters hundreds of thousands of dollars over accidents in the properties they rented.
A series of investigations and work by our campaigns team won a huge reform for renters around Australia, when insurance providers that sell landlord insurance agreed to stop billing renters for claims arising from accidental damage.
We exposed the big insurance companies for billing renters hundreds of thousands of dollars over accidents in the properties they rented. In our meetings with regulators and insurance companies themselves, we piled on the pressure for reform.
Our pressure paid off. In September, every company selling landlord insurance in Australia agreed to a minimum standard and agreed not to go after uninsured renters directly over landlords' claims.
We couldn't have done it without you
Erin Turner, director of campaigns and communications, says the changes we won this year wouldn't have been possible without the backing of our members and supporters.
"CHOICE is a rare genuinely independent voice in debates – this is only possible because of memberships and donations from hundreds of thousands of Australians," she says.
"CHOICE supporters work with us to show how businesses can treat people fairer and how to make Australia better. Whether it's signing a petition for stronger travel rights or helping us investigate advertising from major companies, all of these actions help make the case for change."