AFCA notes the decision recently handed down by the NSW Supreme Court regarding DH Flinders Pty Limited v Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
AFCA is reviewing and considering the potential impact of the Court’s decision on current complaints. We will continue to work with financial firms and complainants to resolve disputes fairly and this includes ensuring complainants receive open and transparent communication from us on the progress of their complaint.
AFCA is proactively contacting complainants in matters involving Sterling group companies, advising them that we are reviewing the impact of the DH Flinders case. As soon as we have clarity on this we will be communicating further with relevant complainants.
Our previous Sterling group update was 24 August 2020. This November 2020 update should be read together with the previous updates.
This update provides:
- details of ASIC’s most recent Sterling update
- information for consumers who have not yet lodged an AFCA complaint including time limits relevant to lodging a complaint about Theta Asset Management Ltd (in liquidation) (Theta)
- more information for consumers who have a claim against Theta about how to lodge a Proof of Debt with Theta’s liquidators
- general information about how AFCA may approach the issue of loss in misleading conduct complaints at AFCA and
- how we applied our approach in a recent Sterling determination against Theta.
- links to published determinations against Theta and Libertas Financial Planning Pty Ltd (Libertas)
Latest update from ASIC
On 19 November 2020, ASIC provided an update regarding its actions against Sterling Income Trust (SIT) Responsible Entity Theta, and its Managing Director Mr Robert Marie. ASIC advised that the Federal Court in Western Australia found Theta and its Managing Director contravened the Corporations Act on multiple occasions in authorising the issue of five defective Product Disclosure Statements for the SIT. ASIC also advises its investigation into conduct by entities and officers within the Sterling Group of companies continues.
More details are available in ASIC’s media release.
Lodging a complaint with AFCA
Consumers who believe they have received incorrect or misleading information about the SIT or other Sterling group investments from a financial firm, or representative of a financial firm, that is a current AFCA member can lodge a complaint against the financial firm.
In its 2017 update, ASIC advised that Theta was the responsible entity of the SIT. The Investment Manager of the SIT was Sterling Corporate Services Pty Ltd (SCS) formerly known as Acquest Corporate Services Pty Ltd. SCS was a corporate authorised representative of Theta for the periods 9 November 2012 to 10 June 2013, and 31 March 2014 to 17 August 2017. SCS was then a corporate authorised representative of Libertas Financial Planning Pty Ltd from 17 August 2017 to 6 May 2019.
If you want to find out if a particular company is a current AFCA member, you can search on our website or call us on 1800 367 287.
Complaints lodged against any solvent member are progressing in accordance with our usual processes.
As outlined in our update about insolvent firms, we are currently accepting future complaints about insolvent financial firms, but we will hold them over until there is more clarity about the timing and scope of the Government’s proposed Compensation Scheme of Last Resort.
Lodging against Theta
Even though Theta is insolvent, and this is currently impacting AFCA’s handling of these cases, we can still accept new complaints lodged against Theta while it remains a member. At this stage Theta will continue to remain a member of AFCA until 6 January 2021. New complaints about Theta’s conduct should be lodged as soon as possible to ensure that any possible remedies in the future are available.
AFCA cannot confirm whether we will be able to progress complaints lodged against Theta in the future (because of its insolvency), therefore as outlined in our Information when you have a complaint about an insolvent firm fact sheet, if you have a claim against Theta, you should also consider lodging a proof of debt with Theta’s liquidators as soon as possible. This is important so that you do not miss out on the opportunity for your claim to be considered by the liquidator.
Lodging a proof of debt with Theta’s liquidators
Especially given AFCA cannot confirm whether we will be able to deal with complaints lodged against Theta in the future (because of its insolvency), if you have a claim against Theta, you should also consider lodging a proof of debt with Theta’s liquidators as soon as possible. This is important so that you do not miss out on the opportunity for your claim to be considered by the liquidator if you do decide to lodge a proof of debt.
For further information about the liquidation and to access the Proof of Debt form, please refer to the Worrells Solvency & Forensic Accounting website or contact Cheryl Huynh on (02) 9249 1220 or email Cheryl.Huynh@worrells.net.au.
More information is in our Information when you have a complaint about an insolvent firm fact sheet.
Assistance to lodge a proof of debt
If you are an individual in Western Australia who needs assistance with lodging a proof of debt with the liquidators and cannot afford a private lawyer, Law Access can assist you. Law Access is a not-for-profit community legal service that can connect you with lawyers who will provide free legal help with the proof of debt process. Please email a completed Application Form to firstname.lastname@example.org. You only need to complete the sections of the Application Form relating to personal details (page 1), a statement about the matter (page3 - where you can state “proof of debt assistance for Theta”) and the permissions and acknowledgements (page 4). If you need any assistance with the Application Form you can contact Law Access on 08 6488 6813 on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9am to 12 noon WST.
How AFCA approaches loss in misleading conduct claims
We have also provided some general information below that may assist you calculate your claim. This information is based on how AFCA generally approaches the issue of loss when it determines complaints about misleading conduct.
Although you may find this information helpful in considering your own circumstances, each person’s situation is different, lodging a proof of debt is a different process to AFCA dealing with a complaint, and Theta’s liquidators can make their own decisions about how they will assess claims.
AFCA has published on our website AFCA Approaches a series of documents that outline how we approach certain types of financial complaints we receive. Two Approaches are particularly relevant to the Sterling group complaints:
Each complaint is unique in nature, so the information in the Approaches is a guide only.
We have provided a summary of the relevant guidance in these approaches on the How AFCA approaches loss in misleading conduct claims page
This page also includes details of a published determination against Theta awarding compensation to a complainant who had invested in the Sterling Income Trust. We have also now published a determination involving Libertas Financial Planning.
It is important to note that we do not treat previous decisions as precedents. There may be circumstances when a previous decision is not applicable because the facts are somewhat different, or we have changed our approach to a particular class of complaint.