ACCC initiates court action despite remediation

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Bupa notified the regulator and has acted to reimburse impacted aged care residents but the ACCC has still instituted proceedings against the company in the Federal Court alleging it made false or misleading representations in relation to services it did not provide or only partly provided.

According to the ACCC, between December 2007 and June 2018, Bupa charged residents at 21 aged care homes a fee for a package of extra services. These extra services included air-conditioning, hot breakfasts and ‘smart room’ systems to assist those living with dementia.

“We allege that Bupa failed to provide or fully provide various extra services promised in residential agreements, but charged for them anyway,” said ACCC Chair Rod Sims.

He added, “The ACCC continues to tackle consumer issues faced by vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers as an enforcement and compliance priority in 2019, including for consumers such as elderly people with significant healthcare needs.”

The regulator, which said it is seeking injunctions, declarations, pecuniary penalties and other orders, acknowledged Bupa had conducted an internal investigation and is offering compensation to affected residents. 

Bupa informed the regulator and other relevant agencies following a review that uncovered the issue.

"Bupa engaged with the ACCC in respect of the scope and timing of their approach to communicating with and reimbursing residents who may have been affected and kept them updated about the remediation program which was designed with external assistance," said the company in a statement.

It said the extra services are not clinical or health-related but "additional ‘hotel type’ services, that involve a higher standard of accommodation and hospitality services (i.e. personal massage or entertainment options)."

The company said it conducted a review and, as a result, commenced a "remediation program" in July 2018 that involved "contacting affected residents (or their families) that had been paying for Extra Services at an impacted home to personally apologise and to explain the actions that would be taken to compensate them." It said it has reimbursed fees.

According to Jan Adams, Bupa’s Managing Director of Aged Care, “We apologise unreservedly to those residents and families who have been affected, and we have reimbursed all current residents impacted with interest.

“We are committed to addressing this to put things right. Those who may have been affected have been contacted directly by Bupa. To date, we have repaid approximately 550 residents.

“We notified our regulators including the ACCC as soon as we became aware of this issue and have worked throughout to communicate openly to all involved.

“We have made significant changes to our systems to ensure this does not happen again. We also engaged independent external advisers in the development of the repayment program to ensure a fair and equitable approach."