AFCA updates approach amid COVID-19 crisis

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority will shift its dispute resolution approach, prioritising complaints that relate to COVID-19.

The ombudsman said although COVID-19 complaints would be fast-tracked, the circumstances under which financial firms are operating will be taken into consideration.

"Complaints about COVID-19 will be prioritised and fast-tracked to ensure those impacted have their issues resolved as quickly as possible," AFCA said.

"AFCA will take into account the circumstances and context in which lenders and other financial firms are currently operating when considering complaints.

"AFCA understands that firms may be putting in place alternate staffing arrangements and may not be in a position to quickly act on requests for information."

Taking into account all new regulatory and legislative changes, AFCA will approach new complaints holistically.

AFCA chief executive and chief ombudsman David Locke said the authority would support government and banking initiatives that serve to assist small businesses and consumers during this unprecedented period.

"AFCA recognises that strong and effective action is required to deal with these challenges," Locke said.

"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."

He added that AFCA recognises small business owners and consumers are under a lot of pressure amid the fallout from COVID-19.

Locke said the ombudsman's approach would mirror that of the Council of Financial Regulators; adjusting initiatives to allow financial institutions to focus on their businesses and customers.

AFCA has established a COVID-19 support line to ensure a prioritised service is provided to those impacted by the pandemic. The hotline (1800 337 444) was opened on Tuesday.

"AFCA has activated its significant event response plan that identifies and fast-tracks COVID-19 related complaints," he said.

"We have also activated our business continuity plan which ensures that we will be able to continue to operate under changing conditions."

The authority has also setup an online information hub, which is regularly updated with information on COVID-19 for small businesses and consumers.

AFCA said it would be working with industry bodies and consumer groups to ensure it fully understands the problems faced by the industry and its customers.

It also supports the government's proposed changes to responsible lending obligations for those that encounter difficulties in accessing credit during this period.

Read our full COVID-19 news coverage and analysis here.

Read more: AFCACOVID-19Australian Financial Complaints AuthorityDavid Lockecoronavirus
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