David Locke was recently appointed the new chief ombudsman and CEO of the Australian Financial Complains Authority (AFCA). QCOSS was delighted to host David and representatives from government, legal services, banking, and community organisations for a meet and greet, and to start a dialog on improving circumstances for people impacted by financial hardship. The issues are very evident given that living affordability has risen significantly and the incomes levels, particularly for those on low to medium incomes, have not risen at appropriate rates.
AFCA is a new independent ombudsman created to replace the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Credit and Investments Ombudsman and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.
The new organisation can consider complaints around banking, credit and some insurance issues for individuals, charities, and small businesses with under 100 employees. They started accepting new disputes from 1 November.
David worked closely with QCOSS during his previous role as assistant commissioner of the national charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).
He says a fresh pair of eyes and fresh decisions are necessary to address systemic issues in the finance sector in the wake of the Royal Commission into banking, and in a sector with long-entrenched issues.
“We have to call (complaints) as we see it based on the facts of the case,” he says, and the organisation expects to handle more than 55,000 this year.
“The challenge I think in the past has been that the process has been much too long… although it’s been quite quick perhaps in terms of some of the dispute handling, if it then goes on to an ombudsman, there can be quite a lot of delay.”
“That just doesn’t cut it really.”
The new board of AFCA is comprised of an even split of consumer and industry advocates, and the financial thresholds for cases they can consider has been greatly increased in some cases, compared to those of the previous agencies.
Enforcement actions, David says, are also suspended while complaints referred to it are investigated.
“I’ve got to work on ensuring that we’re making the right call on fairness, because if we’re not getting fairness right, there’s no point,” he says.
David indicated the organisation plans to continually review its own practices in a quest for consistency – so consumers and organisations know what to expect, with transparency the main aim.
“We want to get out into community organisations, with people who can answer questions, and people who can help individuals if they’ve got issues.”
QCOSS will continue to engage in this area as we work to ensure people’s rights are protected, at an individual and the systemic level.