Consumers took more than 17,000 complaints to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their banking, insurance and other financial services, AFCA reported after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an end to the global emergency.
Consumers received compensation or refunds totalling $21.6 million as a result.
The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020 (12 March AEDT). Three years later, it declared the “global emergency” phase of the pandemic over on 5 May 2023 (6 May AEST).
AFCA’s data shows that between 12 March 2020 and 6 May 2023 the ombudsman service registered 17,403 COVID-related complaints about financial products or services. That was 7 per cent of all the complaints AFCA received over that period.
Some 4,368 COVID-related disputes – or one in four – involved the way a firm responded to a customer’s financial difficulty.
AFCA’s Chief Ombudsman and Chief Executive Officer, David Locke, acknowledged that lockdowns and the impact on incomes meant the pandemic was a difficult time financially for many people but said he was grateful complaint numbers were not even higher.
“While not seeking to downplay what people went through – every complaint matters – we received far fewer COVID-related complaints than we thought might arise from the pandemic,” Mr Locke said. “Banks, for example, were generally quick to respond, providing emergency support as they handled an unprecedented volume of requests for repayment deferrals.
“It shows what’s possible when firms and consumers talk to each other. We hope financial firms have a similar mindset as we face new challenges amid rising interest rates and cost of living pressures.”
Among the COVID-related disputes, travel insurance was the most complained about product, with 3,859 complaints. These disputes were largely about denied or delayed insurance claims after travel plans were disrupted by pandemic lockdowns.
There were 1,427 COVID-related complaints regarding superannuation, after the federal government decided to allow people to apply for the early release of up to $10,000 in super if they were struggling during lockdowns.
Small businesses accounted for 9 per cent of COVID-related complaints, though they usually represent about 5 per cent of all AFCA complaints. Of the 1,594 small business complaints, 781 were related to business loans, and 360 were about business interruption insurance.
AFCA has resolved 97 per cent of all COVID-related complaints so far – in the vast majority of cases by helping complainants and financial firms reach agreement. Overall, 79 per cent of cases have been resolved by agreement or in favour of the complainant.
Please note: Complaints can involve more than one product or issue
Complaints - Top 5 Products
- Travel insurance 3,859
- Credit cards 2,703
- Home loans 2,254
- Personal loans 1,629
- Superannuation 1,134
Complaints – Top 5 Issues
- Failure to respond to a request for assistance 2,404
- Denial of insurance claim due to exclusion or condition 1,463
- Denial of insurance claim 1,454
- Delay in insurance claim handling 1,286
- Service quality 1,162
Complaints – By product line
- Credit 8,462 (48% of COVID-related complaints)
- General insurance 5,236 (30%)
- Superannuation 1,427 (8%)
- Deposit taking 1,050 (6%)
- Payment systems 668 (4%)
- Investments 438 (3%)
- Life insurance 154 (0.9%)
State by State
- NSW 5,206 (30% of COVID-related complaints)
- Victoria 5,147 (29%)
- Queensland 2,748 (16%)
- Western Australia 1,463 (8%)
- SA 879 (5%)
- ACT 235 (1%)
- Tasmania 204 (1%)
- NT 75 (<1%)
Note: Not all complainants provide a location, and some complaints are lodged from overseas.