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Cash Converters harasses customers

Payday lender Cash Converters will pay a $650,000 penalty for harassing customers over unpaid debts, with the penalty coming at a time when industry regulation hangs in limbo.

The company was also caught handing over inaccurate information to debt collection agencies, putting thousands of people's credit history at risk.

In 2016, the company – which posted a $21 million profit after tax in FY 2017 – had to pay $12 million following an ASIC probe.

Cash Converters isn't the only predatory lender to run foul of the regulator. Earlier this year, Radio Rentals had to issue more than $20 million in refunds and penalties for its sale of dodgy consumer leases.

And in February 2016, Fair Go Finance paid $34,000 in infringement notices for overcharging interest and establishment fees on payday loans.

Debt collectors

The ASIC investigation found Cash Converters harassed customers when it chased up debts by contacting them more frequently than allowed under debt collection guidelines. (The limit is no more than three phone calls a week.)

The company was also caught out for reporting the wrong debts to credit agencies. During one month, it provided Equifax with as many as 38,500 incorrect debts, putting people's credit histories in jeopardy.

"All financial service providers [should] have appropriate systems and controls in place to ensure that debt collection practices are consistent with the guidelines," says Peter Kell, deputy chair of ASIC.

"It is also critical that licensees ensure that credit information provided to credit bureaus is accurate."

Cash Converters says it'll be outsourcing its debt collection work to a different company.

In 2015, a number of consumer groups – including CHOICE – called for an overhaul of the industry, where short-term loans are sold at annual interest rates as high as 240%, citing research showing that only 17% of Australians view it favourably.

Optus has been fined $1.5m for bullying its customers into signing up to the national broadband network in order to get kickbacks by NBN Co.

The fine covers Optus' treatment of 14,000 existing customers from October 2015 to March 2017, when the nation's third largest telco told them they have to move onto an NBN service – at times, setting a deadline within 30 days.

For each customer that migrated, Optus earned a payment from NBN Co. These payments – commonly called 'bounties' by Optus – became part of its financial targets.

Optus also told customers they had to move to one of its NBN plans when they had the freedom to sign up to the NBN with any other provider.

The Federal Court sided with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) in handing down the penalty. The watchdog says the $1.5m fine is two times more than Optus made from the conduct, and that the company has paid out $830,000 in compensation since it launched its investigation.

The Federal Court has slapped Thorn Australia with a penalty of $2 million after its Radio Rentals business was caught selling dodgy leases without properly checking if people could afford them.

The penalty follows an investigation by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC), which resulted in $19.9 million being refunded for 270,000 leases.

The court also ordered Thorn Australia to pay $240,000 to cover ASIC's enforcement costs.

"Today’s penalty reinforces the need to uphold high standards of conduct in the consumer leasing industry," says Peter Kell, deputy chair of ASIC.

"The law requires lenders to verify a consumer’s financial situation to make sure that consumers are not being put into unaffordable loans or leases."

Radio Rentals has since made changes to its leasing practices, says Peter Forsberg, acting chief executive of Thorn Group.

"The changes we have made to the consumer leasing division put it on a sound footing to meet the needs of its customers and satisfy its responsible lending obligations," he says.

The Federal Court has handed down a $46 million penalty against the Japanese company Yazaki Corporation, which is the highest fine ever prescribed under the Competition and Consumer Act (2010).

The penalty – up from $9.5 million before the ACCC lodged an appeal – was for Yazaki's role in forming a cartel with other parts suppliers, driving up the cost of Toyota's Camry.

Hewlett-Packard Australia (HP) has agreed to pay $50 each to thousands of customers who couldn't use their printers with non-HP cartridges, but the offer ends in August.

The company sold 220,000 printers with technology that turned off support for non-HP cartridges, installed either at the time of manufacturing or via a software update to older printers. It neglected to inform customers of the restriction.

Under a deal HP negotiated with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), a minimum 2000 customers will be eligible to claim the compensation payment, costing HP at least $100,000.

"Consumers were not made aware of the restriction on using non-HP ink cartridges when buying the printer or downloading the firmware update, and were denied the choice to accept or reject it," says Michael Schaper, deputy chair of the ACCC.

"Businesses must disclose all important information about their products, including if there are any restrictions on the use of non-genuine parts or refills."

Affected printer owners need to fill out a claims form on HP's website before the offer expires on 13 August. 

The payment applies to ten models of printers sold from March 2015, including:

 Image alternate description  comes here
HP will pay thousands of customers compensation, including owners of the OfficeJet 8620.
  • HP OfficeJet Pro 6230
  • HP OfficeJet 6820
  • HP OfficeJet Pro 6830
  • HP OfficeJet Pro 8610
  • HP OfficeJet Pro 8620
  • HP OfficeJet Pro 8630
  • HP OfficeJet Pro X451dw
  • HP OfficeJet Pro X551dw
  • HP OfficeJet Pro X476dw MFP
  • HP OfficeJet Pro X576dw MFP

HP will also have to add labels to 29 other models warning customers the printers will only take its cartridges. 

Ford drivers frustrated with their cars shuddering, jerking and lagging may be entitled to a refund or replacement under a redress program that brings the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Federal Court proceedings against the company to a close.

But the redress program is only eligible to a fraction of the 70,000 customers who bought the affected cars, leaving the vast majority with the option of turning to a class action lawsuit by Bannister Law.

The program comes after the Federal Court handed Ford a $10 million penalty for failing to honour refund and replacement rights enshrined in Australian Consumer Law.

Who's entitled to a replacement car or refund?

People who bought a Ford Fiesta, Focus or EcoSport car fitted with the company's defective PowerShift Transmission (PST) may be eligible for a replacement car or refund. As per an enforceable undertaking accepted by the ACCC, the decision will come down to an independent arbiter appointed by Ford.

Ford has been selling the models with defective transmissions since 2011, but the program only covers cars bought between May 2015 and February 2016.

About 10,500 customers bought one of the defective cars during this period, though they'll only be eligible if Ford denied them a refund or replacement at no cost.

The ACCC says at least 2000 customers will be entitled to one of these redress options – a long way from the 70,000 customers who bought a car fitted with the defective transmission since 2011.

What did Ford do wrong?

Fords fitted with the PowerShift Transmissions shuddered, jerked, made loud noises, and lagged in acceleration. The company knew it was a pervasive issue, but continued to deny refunds and replacements, choosing instead to lay blame on people's driving style.

The ACCC estimates at least half of the 70,000 PST cars sold since 2011 had at least one repair related to the transmission.

And in hundreds of cases alleged by the ACCC, Ford strong-armed consumers into paying $7000 more to upgrade their car to a new one under its "ownership loyalty program", when they could have been entitled to a free replacement or refund. It's estimated the company made more than $6.5 million in the nine months the loyalty program was running.

Woolworths will have to defend environmental claims made about its range of disposable bowls, plates and cutlery in a Federal Court case brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The competition watchdog is alleging Woolworths made false, misleading or deceptive claims – conduct ruled illegal under Australian Consumer Law – when it labelled its W Select Eco picnicware as "biodegradable and compostable".

The court case hinges on Woolworths' alleged failure to reasonably substantiate these claims, a move Sarah Court, ACCC Commissioner, says falls short of the supermarket's own internal policies.

"The ACCC alleges that Woolworths made these claims in circumstances where it was aware there was confusion among consumers and businesses about the meaning of biodegradable and compostable," she says.

"Customers paid a premium because they rightfully thought the environmental claims would have been substantiated."

Woolworths charges more per Eco plate compared to its less expensive Essential range. A 10 pack of Eco plates costs $4, while a 20 pack of Essential plates costs $3 – a difference of 25 cents more per Eco plate.

Court says one of the company's suppliers lists significant qualifications on its website, but that information appears to have been left off the packaging of the plastic plates and cutlery.

Woolworths says its Eco products are manufactured from materials derived from corn starch, sugarcane and other natural materials.

"Following enquiries from the ACCC, we took the precautionary step of voluntarily withdrawing the products from sale in November 2017 so that we could carefully consider the concerns raised," a Woolworths spokesperson tells CHOICE.

"We are now in the process of reviewing the ACCC's claims and considering our next steps."

The supermarket sold these products in packaging that did not substantiate the environmental claims for three years, until they were removed from shelves in November 2017.

Woolworths faces a maximum penalty of $1.1 million if it is found guilty.