Ann McLachlan and her faulty hearing aid.

Ann McLachlan and her faulty hearing aid.

The $5300 hearing aids that broke down.

Just over two years after Ann McLachlan bought her $5300 hearing aids, they became faulty. Ann took them back to Hearing Advantage in Fendalton, Christchurch, where she’d bought them. The company said the aids were no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranty – which only lasts two years – and estimated it would cost around $100 to repair them.

But when the hearing aids returned from repair, the bill was $368. Ann was staggered costly repairs were needed so soon out of the warranty period. She pointed out that the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) requires goods to have a reasonable life. But staff said the repair costs were her responsibility. Ann paid up. She has mild to moderate hearing loss and the hearing aids are vital for her job – she works in a call centre.

Ann got in touch with us to find out what her rights were. Our consumer adviser Maggie Edwards’ view was that Ann was right to raise the CGA as an issue. “The CGA says when you buy goods for personal or domestic use they must be of reasonable quality, fit for purpose and have a reasonable lifespan. Generally, it’s the retailer’s responsibility to ensure that any minor defects are fixed during that lifespan,” Maggie says. UK consumer magazine Which? estimates the reasonable lifespan of a hearing aid to be five years.

So Ann wrote to Hearing Advantage, asking it to honour its obligations under the Act. Managing director Lloyd Mander agreed hearing aids should last five years but said “routine repairs” may be required during that time. Mr Mander said the manufacturer, Unitron, believed the most likely cause of the problem with Ann’s aids was moisture damage from “humidity around the ear”.

After discussions with Unitron, Hearing Advantage agreed to refund Ann $268 of the $368 she’d paid. It acknowledged the “significant (though unintentional) error” made by staff in estimating the cost of repairs. The company also sent Ann a drying kit to store her hearing aids and two packets of batteries.

After we contacted the company, it refunded the remaining $100 as a gesture of good faith “not due to any obligation under the CGA”. It told us some hearing aids would require repair within their lifespan and it was generally accepted within the industry that it was the customer’s responsibility to pay for repairs out of warranty. The company said its policy was “no different from every other clinic”.

Based on legal advice, and industry practice, the company said that due to the nature of hearing aids the CGA would not apply out of warranty. We take a different view.

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Hearing aids Posted by: Johns 29 Jun 2011 11:34am

I also have a problem with moisture around the ear getting into my aid. They have been back to the manufacturer for servicing a couple of times under the service contract. My provider has supplied me with covers to keep out the moisture, but these are expensive considering what they are, but they do the job. My audiologist told me once the aids had design flaw which failed to keep out moisture but this has been remedied in later models. I would like to see a survey on hearing aids - I found it rather daunting when I was first asked to select a hearindg aid when I knew nothing about them.

Hearing aid warranty Posted by: Jack the Ladd 26 Jun 2011 2:34pm

I have hearing aids of a reputable brand and they cost NZ$1500 less in the UK than they do here. With that being the case I would think a five year guarantee is well covered in the importer's and reseller's margins.

What is the REAL story! Posted by: J B 15 Jun 2011 12:47pm

After reading this article several times it is made very clear that there is only one side of the story being told. No where in this article does it write about the nature of the repair - After some investigations of my own, some of the repairs done were due to Ann not looking after her hearing aid as recommended (did she read her user manual at all?). If I smashed my car because I cannot drive does that mean I get it repaired for free under the CGA!!! Would I expect the tyres on my car to last me the life of the car??? Hearing aids are NOT like a TV!!! People need to stop comparing a hearing aid to any other standard electronic device. For example, if I left my TV or phone in the bathroom while I showered would it I expect it to last 5 years??? NO!! Or if I sprayed hair spray all over my TV's speakers would I expect them to work for 5 years??? NO!!! A hearing aid will last 5 years if it has been cared for correctly which clearly Ann has not done. I think Ann is lucky that Hearing Advantage values her as a customer by refunding her some of the money when the real reason Ann's repair was made was most likely due to neglect.

In regards to the comment "hearing aids/audiologists/suppliers" most of your issues stem because the 'hearing industry' is not regulated here is NZ as is many other health care services. Shopping for a hearing aid is not like buy a car and picking the "shiny one" it is a very complex process and based on many factors both the persons hearing loss and lifestyle. The price of a hearing aid reflects the technology within the hearing aid (billions of dollars of research) and the time it takes for the hearing care professional to fit the hearing aid inclusive of any follow up appointments which ARE needed, I am pretty sure your solicitor charges more than your audiologist (who probably has more training and education!).

Everyone should research their health care professional and make sure people hold valid qualifications, if not - go somewhere else. Be realistic when purchasing items and read the user guide booklets when you get them!!! If you look after a hearing aid it will give you many years of enjoyment (maybe even more than 5 years!!!).

hearing aids/audiologists/suppliers Posted by: Polin 11 Jun 2011 2:26pm

What about doing a report on audiologists/hearing aids/hearing aid suppliers?
Eg. Are they accepting any responsibility under he CGA & the FTA?
Has the cost of aids to Super Gold Card holders reduced since the introduction of $500 subsidy?
Why is it seemingly impossible to shop around and why are you told that if you want any prices before you enrol, you have to make an appointment with the audiologist(for which you are charged)?
Why are prices not transparent, even if they claim to be.
If a senior chooses to go to an audiologist who is a member of the association, in order to be able to claim the subsidy, why can he/she be shunted on to someone who is not a member?
Why can they make claims for their aids which are not in fact true, and get away with it?
etc

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