The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has said it 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.
Essentially, this will see AFCA prioritise and fast-track complaints related to COVID-19 in an effort to ease the economic threat posed by the pandemic.
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.
AFCA underlined that it will take into account the circumstances and context in which lenders and other financial firms are currently operating when considering complaints. This includes alternate staffing arrangements that may delay response times.
“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,” Mr Locke confirmed.
Recognising the pressures on small-business owners and consumers at this time, AFCA has also established a support hotline (1800 337 444) to ensure a priority service for those impacted.
In addition to the hotline, AFCA has set up an online COVID-19 information hub that is regularly updated with information for consumers and small businesses (afca.org.au/covid-19).
“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,” Mr Locke said.
AFCA added it supports the changes to responsible lending obligations and the initiatives designed to assist small businesses that encounter financial difficulty or require additional access to credit due to the impact of the pandemic.