An alternative to the traditional court/tribunal system is to utilise private dispute resolution schemes. The particular industry you are dealing with might operate such a scheme, which include the following:
• The Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV) investigates and facilitates the resolution of complaints and disputes by consumers against electricity, gas and water providers. Binding determinations can be made up to the value of $20,000 or $50,000 with the consent of all parties.
• The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) investigates and facilitates the resolution of complaints and disputes by consumers against telecommunications service providers, including landline, mobile phone and internet services. The TIO can handle complaints where the consumer became aware of the complaint event up to six years before coming to the TIO. However, the TIO will not investigate complaints where legal proceedings have commenced. The TIO can make binding decisions (up to $50,000) and recommendations (up to $100,000).
• The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) replaced the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Credit and Investments Ombudsman, and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal on 1 November 2018. AFCA deals with complaints from consumers and small businesses about all financial service entities (including banks, credit unions, brokers, financial planners, insurers, superannuation funds, finance companies, payday lenders, and debt collectors). AFCA can consider consumer complaints worth up to $1 million and can award up to $500,000 in compensation. For small businesses, compensation is capped at $2 million. AFCA can consider disputes about credit facilities of up to $5 million.
• Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV) is a new independent government agency that resolves domestic (residential) building disputes. The focus is on conciliation, which involves bringing together both parties to discuss and resolve matters in dispute. The DBDRV can appoint qualified expert assessors to conduct building assessments to assist the resolution process. If conciliation does not resolve the dispute, the Chief Dispute Resolution Officer has the power to issue binding dispute resolution orders and certificates.
Parties involved in DBDRV dispute resolution have the right to apply to VCAT for a review of certain actions and decisions made by the DBDRV.
• The Public Transport Ombudsman (PTO) receives, investigates and facilitates the resolution of complaints and disputes between users of public transport services in Victoria and public transport operators. This includes complaints about metropolitan trains, trams and buses, and regional trains and buses. The PTO can deal with complaints about:
– tickets, including ticket refunds and malfunctioning tickets and machines;
– service delivery (e.g. cancellations/delays);
– public transport staff;
– stations and stops;
– carriages and vehicles; and
– public transport land.
The PTO will attempt to resolve the complaint by agreement, but in the absence of an agreed outcome, the PTO is able to make a determination that may include compensation of up to $5,000. The PTO cannot investigate complaints that are under consideration by any court or tribunal, or complaints about government policies and legislation, including public transport fines.
All these schemes are independent and free, and are less formal and generally speedier than tribunals and courts. You are generally required to give the business a chance to resolve the complaint before the scheme will consider it. When resolving a dispute the schemes are required to take account of law, good industry practice and what is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.
For a list of alternative dispute resolution schemes, see “Contacts”.