AFCA, key housing bills passed

A number of new measures that will dramatically impact the way consumers interact with the financial services industry have cleared both houses of parliament.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), announced in this year's Federal Budget, will be established as a free, binding dispute resolution service to hear financial complaints from consumers, small businesses and retail investors.

The new authority combines three oversight bodies - the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO) and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT) - into a 'one-stop-shop' and has the power to award redress above values currently permitted under the existing schemes.

"Given the crucial role of the financial sector, Australians expect high standards from financial institutions," assistant minister to the Prime Minister, James McGraph said.

"Where these expectations are not met and consumers wrongfully suffer a loss, it is critical that those who have been wronged have access to redress in a timely manner.

"AFCA will provide fair, efficient, timely and independent dispute resolution services."

The Federal Government will provide $4.3 million to ASIC over four years from 2017-18, including capital of $0.9 million in 2017-18, to ensure the AFCA delivers an effective dispute resolution service.

The authority has not gone without criticism, with Industry Super Australia and the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees using their submission to parliament to argument that a single body will have the funding, expertise or authority required to properly deal with issues.

"Superficially the coming of three financial services complaints bodies appears to have efficiency benefits. However, a deeper exanimation revels produced challenges which will be difficult for AFCA to overcome," the submission said.

Alongside the passage of AFCA, two housing affordability measures - the First Home Buyers Super Savers Scheme and the Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures - also passed the Senate.

The bills, which will allow first home buyers to make voluntary contributions of up to $15,000 per year and $30,000 in total into their superannuation account, and seniors to make contributions of up to $300,000 from the proceeds of selling their home into their super accounts,  will come into effect from 1 July 2018.

The First Home Super Savers Scheme was supported by Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm after an amendment to ensure a review of the scheme after 18 months was added.

Related story: First home buyers: Devil is in the detail for super funds

The opposition and the Greens both came out against the legislation, with Labor senator Doug Cameron arguing the scheme will do nothing to address housing affordability.

"Instead, it will undermine Australia's world-class superannuation system," senator Cameron told parliament.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson supported the bill but said that housing pressures could also be alleviated by curbing immigration levels.

The ATO will be given the primary responsibility for administrating the scheme including; determining the eligibility of the person seeking a release, and calculating the release amounts, and will be provided an additional $9.4 million by the government.

Read more: AFCASuperannuationFirst Home BuyersDownsizingFirst Home Buyers Super Savers SchemeHouse of RepresentativesIndustry Super AustraliaSenate
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