The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has started proceedings in the Federal Court, claiming that iSelect made false or misleading representations in relation to its energy plan comparison service.
The ACCC alleges that since at least November 2016, iSelect has claimed consumers using its website would benefit from iSelect comparing all plans available from its partner retailers in a specific location. During this period, iSelect also claimed that it would recommend the most competitive plan to consumers.
The ACCC alleges iSelect did not compare all available plans and did not necessarily recommend the most competitive plan, but rather limited the number of plans it compared based on the commercial arrangement it had with retailers. iSelect did not disclose this information to consumers who used its service.
The ACCC claims iSelect was actually favouring some partner retailers over others and that the preferred retailers paid iSelect higher commissions.
An ASIC regulatory guide issued in 2012, Advertising Financial Products and Services (RG 234), says comparison sites should disclose any links to the providers of the products that are being compared, including commissions, referral fees, payments for inclusion in comparisons or payments for “featured products”.
A warning should be included if not all providers are included in the comparison. If the sites include awards or ratings, the basis fr such should be disclosed.
In 2015 the ACCC issued a guide for comparison site operators and their suppliers, highlighting a number of areas where the industry was potentially engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct.
To promote like-for-like comparisons, operators should disclose what they mean by a value ranking, display any assumptions used when displaying search results, have systems in place to ensure accuracy and ensure that suppliers are providing timely information.
On the issue of transparency, the ACCC said operators should clearly differentiate between sponsored or advertised products and “organic” search results. They should not allow suppliers to pay them a fee or some other benefit in exchange for preferred treatment in search results.
Operators should disclose any commercial relationships even when those relationships do not affect the comparison results.
On disclosure, the ACCC recommended that operators disclose the identity of suppliers whose products are being compared, as well as the product range of each supplier.
Operators should make accurate disclosures of the proportion of the products in the market being compared. “Accurate disclosure of the nature and extent of the comparison service, including the extent of the market and products compared, is vital in enabling consumers to make decisions based on complete information,” the ACCC says.
When making savings claims, operators should avoid making definitive or absolute statements about how much a consumer can save by using the comparison service. They should only make savings representations when comparing like-for-like products. And they should prominently display that any exit fees consumers may need to pay their current supplier will affect they savings they can achieve by switching.
The ACCC also has some advice on the operation of call centres. It says operators should not offer inducements or incentives to call centre staff to prioritise products that generate higher levels of commission over products that best suit a consumer’s stated preferences.
Operators should not inform call centre staff of the commission payments they receive from suppliers and they should pay call centre staff the same level of commission per sale independent of the product they recommend.