Holes in M.S.S.'s security blanket

Mayne Nickless, trading as MSS Alarm Services, has admitted it misrepresented the reliability of a personal alarm and monitoring service it provides to elderly and infirm people in Queensland and northern NSW.

The ACCC initiated a civil court action against Mayne Nickless because of the way it marketed its Neva Alone device a small security pendent that enabled the wearer to raise the alarm in a emergency. By pressing a small button, the user could trigger an automatic message to the control room of the Metropolitan Security Services. A monitor would then present the operator in the MSS control room with a series of options, eg. call a relative, neighbour, doctor etc.

MSS promoted the Neva Alone system as an "around the clock" personal emergency call system that was continuously monitored.

Based on the evidence of a former senior operator in the control room, the ACCC alleged MSS had misrepresented the Neva Alone and some other general alarm services because the monitoring equipment did not operate effectively on all occasions. Since 1990 the capacity to monitor has been intermittently disrupted by malfunctions in the computer and receiver systems.

The Commission also alleged the customer database, which contained the pre-identified contacts for distress callers, was not kept up to date and the company had fallen behind on its six-monthly schedule for maintenance.

The Federal Court in Brisbane today granted the ACCC a consent injunction against MSS restraining the company for a period of two years from misleading current of prospective customers about the monitoring and maintenance of MSS alarms. The injunction will apply to MSS on a nation-wide basis.

to write to its customers advising them of the ACCC's views about the interruptions to the monitoring service;

to provide a compensation package to all existing Queensland Neva Alone customers. It will comprise six months' free service or cash equivalent;

to appoint an independent expert to review and report on the current alarm monitoring system.

ACCC chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said the Commission's concerns were heightened by the fact that MSS were dealing with vulnerable people who may be dependent on the efficiency and reliability of the emergency service.

"Another disturbing feature of the case was the operator's allegation that local management was slow to address the problem once it had been brought to its attention by the staff," he said.

"Apart from putting a stop to the misleading representations, the Commission has been keen to ensure that MSS equipment and processes are as reliable as possible. The independent review and report on the monitoring system are designed to address that problem."

"I would also note that, although the evidence relates to Queensland and northern NSW, the injunction granted by the court covers the whole of Australia."