The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) will modify its approach to dispute resolution to take into account all regulatory and legislative changes announced as part of Australia’s COVID-19 response.
AFCA Chief Executive Officer and Chief Ombudsman David Locke said AFCA will support government and banking sector initiatives that assist small businesses and consumers to withstand the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19.
“AFCA recognises that strong and effective action is required to deal with these challenges,” Mr Locke said.
“We will take into account the unprecedented circumstances that financial firms are currently operating in when considering any complaints that may arise, as well as any revised regulatory standards or guidance that may apply.
“We also recognise the pressures on small business owners and consumers at this very difficult time.
“AFCA’s approach to handling COVID-19 related complaints will align with the statements released recently by the Council of Financial Regulators.
“AFCA has activated its significant event response plan that identifies and fast-tracks COVID-19 related complaints. We have also activated our business continuity plan which ensures that we will be able to continue to operate under changing conditions.”
AFCA is establishing a support hotline (1800 337 444), to ensure a priority service is provided for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be open from Tuesday 24 March.
Complaints about COVID-19 will be prioritised and fast-tracked to ensure those impacted have their issues resolved as quickly as possible. AFCA will take into account the circumstances and context in which lenders and other financial firms are currently operating when considering complaints. AFCA understands that firms may be putting in place alternate staffing arrangements and may not be in a position to quickly act on requests for information.
AFCA will work with industry peak bodies and consumer groups, as well as directly with AFCA members to ensure we understand the challenges the financial services industry and consumers is facing.
AFCA supports the changes to responsible lending obligations proposed by the government and the initiatives designed to assist small businesses that encounter financial difficulty or require additional access to credit due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 communicating 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.
This week, AFCA’s staff are transitioning to work from home. AFCA is well equipped to support this. AFCA’s main phone number and the new hotline will continue to operate while our staff work from home. For most users of AFCA’s services, they will see little change, however, some staff may only be available via email. Complaints can continue to be lodged online via afca.org.au or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cancellation of events and meetings
All meetings involving external guests will be conducted via video- or telephone-conferencing rather than face-to-face.
AFCA has also delayed our Member Forums and Group Liaison Meetings. These will be replaced by webinars, with details to come later. The upcoming legs of the AFCA Roadshow will be rescheduled when safe to do so.