Aged care provider apologises but ACCC takes it to court

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has started proceedings in the Federal Court against aged care provider Bupa, alleging it made false or misleading representations about services to residents for more than a decade.

The allegations related to services the ACCC says Bupa either did not provide or only partly provided in facilities across Australia between 2007 and 2018.

The ACCC says that between December 2007 and June 2018, Bupa charged thousands of residents at 21 aged care homes in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania a fee for a package of extra services. The fees for the extra services, set out in residential agreements with residents, often amounted to thousands of dollars each year.

According to the ACCC, services promised in the package but which were not provided, included:

  • ‘smart room’ systems to assist those living with dementia
  • air-conditioning in all bedrooms
  • covered outdoor exercise areas
  • large talking book libraries
  • tactile and sensory walkways
  • fully equipped physiotherapy rooms
  • separate leisure activity spaces
  • hot breakfasts
  • travel escorts for outside appointments.

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

“In some cases, the alleged misleading representations related to services that were significant to the quality of life of elderly residents. The promised services were likely also what attracted many residents and their families to choose Bupa.”

Mr. Sims said that misrepresentations in the aged care sector were of particular concern because it was often difficult for elderly residents to move to another provider.

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.”

Bupa said it conducted an internal investigation in 2018.

In its statement, the aged care provider said: “In 2018, Bupa undertook a review of Extra Services at our 20 care homes where these services were available. While we have found that the majority of Extra Services have been provided in these care homes, we identified that some Extra Services may not have been available, in full or in part.

“As a result, in July 2018 we began contacting those residents and their families who may be affected to apologise and re-pay fees for the relevant services, including interest.”

It says that “Extra Services” are not clinical or health services.

Bupa says it is offering compensation to affected residents at homes that may be affected. The homes are listed on its website.

The ACCC started its investigation after Bupa notified it of its conduct. Bupa has not admitted that its conduct contravenes the Australian Consumer Law.

Bupa managing director of aged care Jan Adams said: “We apologise unreservedly to those residents and families who have been affected and we are reimbursing them with interest.

“We are committed to addressing this to put things right. Those who may have been affected are being contacted directly by Bupa. To date, we have repaid approximately 400 residents. All impacted residents will be contacted and repaid.

“A review into this matter is ongoing and we have made significant changes to our systems to ensure this issue does not happen again. We engaged independent external advisers in the development of the repayment program to ensure a fair and equitable approach.

“Our remediation program began in July 2018 and will continue until all impacted residents are repaid.”

Bupa operates 78 aged care facilities in NSW, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. The ACCC’s proceedings relate to the following 21 facilities: Bankstown, Banora Point, Berry, Dural, Mosman, Queens Park, Sutherland, Tamworth, Roseville, Baulkham Hills and Willoughby (NSW); Berwick, Bonbeach, Caulfield, Coburg, Croydon, Donvale and Greensborough (Victoria); Glenvale and New Farm (Queensland) and South Hobart (Tasmania).

Does the ACCC action allay any concerns you may have about oversight of aged care facilities?

Written by Janelle Ward

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