HRV fined over water filter claims
23 October 2018
HRV Clean Water Limited (HRV) has been fined $440,000 after pleading guilty to making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of its water filters and for making misleading claims about the quality of New Zealand’s home water supply.
The fine was issued by Judge John Macdonald in the Auckland District Court on 19 October.
HRV admitted that the information available to it when it made the claims did not provide reasonable grounds for claims about the performance of its water filters. The unsubstantiated claims related to the ability of a magnetic “ionizer” in its water filter systems to soften water, and the benefits that consumers could expect after using the water filters and the water filters’ ability to reduce skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis.
In addition, HRV made misleading representations about the quality of water and about additives in New Zealand’s home water supply, and the need for consumers to buy a water filter to address this.
The unsubstantiated claims were made by HRV on its website between 2 July 2014 and 12 October 2017, in promotional materials and to customers and the public at presentations. They included statements such as “reduces skin irritations, dermatitis and eczema” and “removes existing lime scale and extends the life of your appliances.”
Commissioner Anna Rawlings said the information available to HRV did not provide a reasonable basis for a number of the performance claims it made.
“HRV did not have reasonable grounds to claim the filter could soften water through its magnetic process. HRV relied heavily on the information provided by the supplier without getting this verified by an expert. Although HRV had some testing done, the results did not provide a reasonable basis for the various claims it had made – and continued to make – about the benefits of using the filters,” she said.
HRV also misrepresented the state of New Zealand’s domestic water supply. This included the claim that “90% of our water ways are polluted below swimming standards, yet this is where we source our water from”, and that the filter would “remove many of the additives, as well as funny tastes and smells from your water supply.”
Ms Rawlings said these misleading statements likely created concern among consumers that a water filter was needed to improve the quality of their home water supply.
“The impression that a reasonable consumer would take from these claims is that without treatment, using the water supplied to New Zealand homes carried health risks. This was not true," she said.
“The water filter was an expensive and technical product. Consumers should be able to trust the claims businesses make about the need for a product and its ability to deliver on the promises made about its performance, particularly when they cannot scientifically test the benefits or second guess promotional statements themselves. The onus is on traders to ensure that they have the information they need to back up the claims they make and that they do not overstate the need or potential benefit of their products or services,” she said.
Watch our video – If you can’t back it up don’t say it
Consumers need to be able to rely on the accuracy of claims. It is illegal for a trader to make a claim about a good or service without any reasonable basis. You can watch our video ‘If you can’t back it up, don’t say it' and see more about unsubstantiated representations here.
Hard water versus soft
Hard water is the term used to describe water containing high levels of minerals. When water contains high levels of minerals, it tends to deposit these minerals onto surfaces - often referred to as “scale”. Hard water can also make soap form a scum on surfaces. Conventional methods of treating hard water (reverse osmosis and ion exchange) involve removing the minerals from water which cause it to be hard. The result is soft water which does not cause scale or scum build up.