The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) will give consumers, small businesses and financial firms extra time to respond to complaints due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The nine-day extension comes into effect immediately and will apply to all complaints, including those relating to financial difficulty. Financial firms currently have 21 days to respond when AFCA notifies them that a complaint has been lodged, they will now have 30 days.
AFCA is taking a flexible approach to assisting all parties to a dispute in these difficult times. AFCA is also providing as standard, a flat 21-day timeframe to provide an initial response, once the dispute reaches the case management stage.
AFCA Chief Executive Officer and Chief Ombudsman David Locke said AFCA is aware of the difficult circumstances financial firms and the community are facing, and the extension ensures all parties involved had sufficient time to work together to resolve the complaint.
“AFCA has been talking to key stakeholders and has heard the complexities facing financial firms, small business and consumers in the current environment,” Mr Locke said.
“We have worked with ASIC to get an extension to the time financial firms have to respond to complaints that have already been through internal dispute resolution processes. Financial firms now have 30 days to respond, up from 21 days.
“This extension allows financial firms more time to resolve disputes with their customers, without the need to come to AFCA for an external dispute resolution service.
“This recognises the pressure some parts of the financial services industry are under, with unprecedented levels of customer queries and financial hardship requests. It also gives consumers more realistic expectations about when they will get a response.
“Where the parties are unable to resolve complaints by themselves, the extension provides more time to do things like find the documentation required by AFCA.
“From a consumer perspective, it is important to note that if a financial difficulty case has been brought to AFCA, then in most cases, no enforcement action can be taken while the matter is with us.”
The changes are a temporary measure which AFCA anticipates will be in place for up to six months and will be reviewed and adjusted as appropriate. All internal dispute resolution refer back timeframes remain unchanged.
As always, AFCA encourages financial firms to continue to:
- Work constructively and reasonably with affected consumers and small businesses during any period of disruption, particularly consumers and small businesses in hardship, or who may be experiencing difficulty repaying debt.
- Openly and transparently communicate with consumers and small businesses about any delays they may experience in decision making, claims or complaints handling caused by the impact of COVID-19 on their business.
- The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is a non-government ombudsman service providing free, fair and independent help with financial disputes.
- AFCA is a one-stop-shop for consumers and small businesses who have a dispute with their financial firm, over things such as banking, credit, insurance, advice, investments or superannuation.
- Where an agreement cannot be reached between parties, AFCA can issue decisions that are binding on financial firms.
- Information on AFCA’s dispute resolution process and timeframes is available on the AFCA website.
- During AFCA’s complaint process, a financial firm must not:
- begin legal proceedings against the complainant relating to the complaint
- pursue debt recovery proceedings instituted before lodgment, except to the minimum extent necessary to preserve the financial firm’s legal rights (unless the complainant has taken steps beyond lodging a defence)
- recover a debt that is the subject of the complaint, protect assets securing that debt, assign any right to recover that debt, or list a default on a credit file.
- However, AFCA may consent to the financial firm taking certain action while the complaint remains open by imposing conditions.