The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is granting a temporary nine-day extension, effective immediately, to consumers, small businesses and financial firms to resolve all complaints, including those relating to financial difficulty.
AFCA said it is taking a flexible approach to assisting all parties to a dispute in these difficult times and expects the measure to be in place for up to six months.
It is also providing as standard a flat 21-day time frame to provide an initial response, once the dispute reaches the case management stage.
AFCA CEO and chief ombudsman David Locke said the extension ensures all parties involved had sufficient time to work together to resolve the complaint.
“AFCA has been talking to key stakeholders and has heard the complexities facing financial firms, small business and consumers in the current environment,” Mr Locke said.
“We have worked with ASIC to get an extension to the time financial firms have to respond to complaints that have already been through internal dispute resolution processes. Financial firms now have 30 days to respond, up from 21 days.”
Mr Locke noted that some parts of the financial services industry are under immense pressure, with unprecedented levels of customer queries and financial hardship requests.
“Where the parties are unable to resolve complaints by themselves, the extension provides more time to do things like find the documentation required by AFCA,” Mr Locke said.
“From a consumer perspective, it is important to note that if a financial difficulty case has been brought to AFCA, then in most cases, no enforcement action can be taken while the matter is with us.”
AFCA confirmed that all internal dispute resolution refer-back time frames remain unchanged.