Having the hearing problem tinnitus can be incredibly frustrating. But when you invest thousands of dollars in hearing aids to fix it – and they don’t – that’s another level of frustration altogether. Ejaz Ahmed has had to put up with both.
Ejaz has the type of tinnitus that is a whooshing or hissing sound in one of his ears. For others, it can be a constant ringing, in one or both ears. It affects about 200,000 people. Some people find it annoying but bearable, but for Ejaz it was disabling; he couldn't converse in busy places. So he sought help from technology, heading to Hear Again in Christchurch.
Hear Again suggested he invest $5500 in a new type of hearing aid called a Bicros aid. It transfers sound from the good ear to the faulty one, enabling a better all-round hearing experience. Ejaz trialled the device for three months and found it helped, so he took the plunge and made the $5500 investment.
During the trial Ejaz used disposable batteries, but these can be fiddly to insert and don't last very long, so Hear Again recommended he switch to a recharging system. With this, the aids can be placed in the system overnight to charge, ready to be worn all the next day. "It's a matter of convenience," said Steve Foster, Managing Director of Hear Again.
However, within weeks, Ejaz started to have problems. The charging was lasting only a few hours, and then dropped further to just an hour or so. He took the hearing aids back to Hear Again, and they sent them to the manufacturer Widex. Ejaz wasn't told what the problem was, but he was given brand new hearing aids, and a brand new recharging system. This was fine at first, but then the same problem occurred.
Then the terrorist attack occurred in Christchurch. Ejaz is an active member of the Muslim community and the event was horrific for him and his family. "My brother was the last one to get out of the mosque, my uncle was shot and was in hospital for three months. I lost a friend in Linwood Mosque", he explains.
To make matters worse, his wife was taken ill and needed surgery. It was a hard time for Ejaz, and dealing with the hearing aid problem fell on the back burner.
Three months later, as things began to settle, he took the hearing aids back. Again they were returned to the manufacturer, and Ejaz received texts to say that there'd been a few cases like his, but that they had been resolved with a software upgrade. A few days later, he was told that Widex, the manufacturer, had again agreed for him to receive brand new hearing aids and a new recharging system.
By this point, Ejaz had lost faith in the devices. He felt the devices weren't fit for purpose and asked for a refund.
A conversation with Steve, Hear Again's managing director took place on the phone. Steve's explanation was that there was never any problem with the hearing aids themselves. It was always the recharging system, which they now realised wasn't powerful enough to charge Bicros aids which need more charging than conventional aids. Steve added that the hearing aids were being replaced "just in case" there was a problem with them, but that the checks done by Widex suggested they were in perfect working order, if used with disposable batteries.
Steve offered Ejaz a $500 refund on the rechargeable system, plus an extended warranty, a year of free check-ups and two years' worth of disposable batteries. Ejaz appreciated the offer but he didn't want the uncertainty of hearing aids that might be faulty again. Neither party would budge.
Ejaz then came to Fair Go, and we discussed the situation with Hear Again. Under the law, the company had done nothing wrong, but given Ejaz’s frustrating experience. Fair Go asked Hear Again to consider offering him a full refund.
It turns out Hear Again were happy to reconsider, saying first and foremost they didn't want Ejaz to give up on seeking hearing solutions elsewhere. They offered Ejaz a full refund of $6000, which was music to his ears.