29 Nov 2017

Tutoring company boss faced similar complaints in Australia

7:25 am on 29 November 2017

The director of a maths tutoring company fined for duping parents into buying lessons online faced similar complaints in Australia before setting up here.

Once again NCEA level one maths has not been a friend to students

Once again NCEA level one maths has not been a friend to students Photo: 123rf

Auckland Academy of Learning was fined $350,000 in the Auckland District Court for breaching the Fair Trading Act.

At sentencing the judge criticised the tutoring firm's "cynical marketing" which targeted parents who were vulnerable because of their natural concern for their children.

The sales reps gave children a difficult math test, which was not based on the New Zealand curriculum.

The poor marks lured parents into believing their child needed the expensive online programme costing as much as $11,000 over four years.

In court, it was revealed owner Gordon McPherson had been involved in a company called Victorian Academy of Learning in Australia, which sold the same product.

That company was subject to similar complaints there, but has since folded.

Gerard Brody, head of the Consumer Action Law Centre in Australia, said it was "outrageous" the same tactics were used in New Zealand after taking advantage of thousands of families in Australia.

"I hope that our regulators are working more closely together to stamp out these sorts of practices," he said.

Mr Brody said his organisation represented customers who fought to get their money back through consumer tribunals.

Commerce Commissioner Anna Rawlings said the commission was aware of the Australian complaints when it brought the case against the company.

She said there were 180 complaints about the Auckland Academy of Learning.

"We were most concerned that the sales strategies in this case were planned and deliberate and they played on parents' natural concern for their children and for their education and that made them vulnerable as a consequence," she said.

She added that there was a law to protect consumers when salespeople come to their home unannounced.

Auckland Academy of Learning continues to sell the same product. But its lawyer said the quality of the programme was never in doubt and it has changed its sales tactics.

The company's owner would not answer questions outside court.