The Australian Financial Complaints Authority is opening public consultation on proposed changes to the rules that govern its work helping consumers and financial firms to resolve complaints.
The proposed changes to its official Rules, and associated amendments to its Operational Guidelines, are largely designed to implement recommendations of the Treasury-led Independent Review of AFCA.
Consultation on the proposed changes begins on 27 March and is open until 22 May.
“AFCA has a significant three-year program of work underway to implement the Independent Review recommendations,” Deputy Chief Ombudsman Dr June Smith said. “Our proposed Rules and Operational Guidelines changes are an important component of that program.
“The aim is to ensure AFCA continues to deliver fair, independent, efficient and effective solutions for financial disputes,” Dr Smith said.
The Independent Review found that AFCA was performing well but should continue to develop and improve its procedures as it consolidated its place in the financial system.
AFCA’s Rules are approved by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and explained in more detail in the Operational Guidelines (see the Rules and Guidelines web page). AFCA resolves complaints in accordance with those rules and guidelines.
AFCA closed 71,152 complaints in 2021-22. At the end of calendar 2022 it had 42,488 financial firm members.
The Independent Review set out 14 recommendations for AFCA or the federal government in its November 2021 report. It did not recommend any increase in the jurisdiction, or the monetary limits, of the AFCA Scheme, and the proposed Rules changes reflect that.
AFCA engaged an external consultant to draft the proposed changes, which are explained in the Consultation Paper, available on the Consultation page of the AFCA website.
“These proposals are an indication of the approach we may take but we are keen to hear from firms and consumers, whose feedback will help us as we seek to enhance the AFCA scheme,” Dr Smith said.
There are many ways to provide comment, including through webinars, meetings, an online submission form or written submissions. The Consultation page on the AFCA website provides more information.
Summary of proposed changes
AFCA proposes changes to its Rules and Operational Guidelines in the following general areas, to address the Independent Review Report recommendations:
- The management of unreasonable and inappropriate conduct within the scheme, to strengthen AFCA’s ability to deliver procedural fairness under Recommendation 2, to manage the conduct of fee paid representatives who engage with the scheme under Recommendation 4, and to build greater efficiency and timeliness in complaint handling in response to Recommendation 5.
- Dealing with complaints where an appropriate offer of settlement has been made or where issues in dispute have been previously settled. These changes respond to Recommendations 1, 2, 5 and 7 to ensure only unresolved issues in dispute are progressed and that matters do not progress to case management or decision status where appropriate offers of settlement have already been made.
- Excluding complaints lodged by professional or sophisticated investors unless exceptions apply, as required by Recommendation 6.
- To enhance the visibility, accessibility and performance of the Forward Looking Review mechanism, under Recommendation 9.
- Clarity about the effect of AFCA determinations and how the slip rule works to ensure greater transparency and understanding of AFCA’s decision making under Recommendation 2. This is designed to ensure that complaints are finalised in a more timely and efficient manner under Recommendation 5.
- Minor changes to definitions and language to update certain areas of the Rules arising from legislative change, to give greater clarity and transparency of the scheme’s operation overall. Minor changes to clarify AFCA’s reporting and transparency obligations.
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The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is a non-government ombudsman service providing free, fair and independent dispute resolution to individual consumers and small businesses when they are not able to resolve complaints directly with financial firms in banking and finance, insurance, investments and advice, and superannuation. AFCA aims to help the parties reach agreement, but it can issue decisions that are binding on financial firms.