Getting refunds

Two items in “Ask the experts” and one in “Your say” in November’s Choice prompted me to write and suggest that the experts’ advice was too limited and rule bound and that other alternatives should be considered.

The first item was a sad situation of a member who was no longer able to maintain health fund cover due to health issues and the unemployment situation due to COVID-19. Many years ago, my daughter required expensive medication which, at the time, was not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for her condition. The medication cost was just over $4,000 every six to eight weeks, a heavy load for us at the time. Without the medication, she was likely to need surgery, one bout of which she had already endured. On the suggestion of someone, possibly a staff member of the Teachers’ Federation Health Fund, we wrote to the Fund asking for assistance. In a very generous and welcome reply, the Fund GM offered to meet 75% of the cost. The Fund continued to help until use of the expensive medication for my daughter’s disease became part of the PBS and the cost dropped to $36 per dose. Message – try a good letter to the GM of the health fund.

The second advice was proffered to a member who was unhappy with being advised that unused airline tickets with the two major domestic carriers were to be reimbursed with credits and not refunds. The expert’s advice was quite aggressive. Write demanding a refund and, failing that, join a class action against the airlines he recommended. As we are all too well aware, many class actions are undertaken to benefit the lawyers running them and usually not out of any intention to benefit society at large or the class of those who join the action. Having regard to the economic tsunami unleashed by COVID, and through no fault of the airline industry, all airlines are struggling to survive, pay some of their core staff and try to gradually return to some form of service. All airlines have lost vast amounts of money, a situation only exacerbated by ill-conceived class actions. Encouraging members to join such a class action is tantamount to kicking a fallen person and provides no beneficial outcome. Perhaps the advice should have been for the member to check his credit card insurance and/or speak to the card provider. This avenue worked well for me when I lost some forward payments for a cancelled trip in May last.

Finally, in the “Your say” pages, another member recounted the story of trying to have a front loader washing machine fixed. In this case, there was no advice other than the comment that an extended warranty should not be necessary given the protections under Australian Consumer Law. However, I have not yet succeeded in explaining to a call centre in a far off country that the company needs to meet its legal obligations under ACL! However, better solutions are available by pursuing the retailer of the goods or, if that is sluggish or unhelpful, raising the matter with the credit card provider as a dispute. My experience with the card providers has been good and much simpler than explaining to someone in a far off call centre that you want your consumer rights.

By all means offer advice in your columns but don’t forget the simple alternatives and don’t start aggressively


Welcome to the community @curly000. I am sure you have encouraged lots of us to go back to our copies of the Choice mag and check out your issues.

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Many good points @curly000, but please note the retailer is the first point of call under the ACL, not the manufacturer and ‘we’ always try to make that clear. Many times however, for one reason or another, consumers still try to navigate the manufacturer/importers ‘support’ system. Oft times it is the most expeditious and removes a middle-man who can do little but own the problem and ‘pass paper back and forth across their desk’ so it can also be a judgement call to ‘get it fixed’. As you wrote, off-shore call centres are sometimes ill equipped at the best of times for many reasons; if one tries to get support from them, the retailer still ‘owns’ the warranty in Australia and consumers should not waste time with a manufacturer support system if it is not responsive.