Released every month our debt collection blog contains news, stories and tips to keep you informed.
Following on from last month where we looked at the AFCA Approach to Mortgagee Sales this month we look at the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) approach to Financial Difficulty - Early Release of Superannuation.
The purpose of this article is to summarise the approach AFCA have regarding the early release of superannuation and what lenders obligations are when considering a request from a consumer to support the early release of superannuation.
Grounds for Release
There are 2 primary circumstances where a consumer may apply for the early release of superannuation. These are due to several financial hardship or compassionate grounds (mortgage arrears). A consumer that has been in receipt of a Government support payment, such as Newstart Allowance, continuously for 26 weeks may be entitled to the early release of superannuation on the grounds of financial hardship. A consumer may access between $1,000 to $10,000 once a year and the application must be made directly to their superannuation fund. The payment can be utilised for any purpose and does not require the support of the FSP.
Where the application is being made on compassionate grounds (mortgage arrears) the process is administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). A consumers application to the ATO for payment of mortgage arrears will need a letter from their FSP stating that the amount is overdue and if the overdue amount is not paid by the due date the mortgagee will foreclose or force the sale of the consumers principal place of residence. More information is available from Access on Compassionate Grounds on the ATO website.
There is an expectation from AFCA that FSPs will consider alternatives rather than simply supporting a request for the release of superannuation as the release of superannuation is a last resort. AFCA expects FSPs to take appropriate steps to understand the consumers financial position, decide what assistance it can provide the consumer and communicate its decision to the consumer.
Factors to Consider
When considering if support should be given for the early release of superannuation the FSP, , should explore all alternative options -
Where it is apparent that the consumer can afford to continue with the contractual repayments but unable to clear the arrears the FSP may consider it more appropriate to capitalise the arrears.
Where the FSP is unable to determine if the consumer can meet their ongoing contractual obligations it may be more appropriate for the FSP to provide a reasonable moratorium period to allow the consumer time for their situation to improve.
Where it is clear that the consumer will be unable to meet their ongoing contractual obligations supporting a release for superannuation may not be appropriate as any release will only delay the inevitable. In certain situations it may be beneficial for the FSP to allow the consumer time to sell the security property which will preserve their superannuation and may offer some financial relief.
Failing to Meet Obligations
Where AFCA believe that the FSP has failed to meet their obligations AFCA may rule that the FSP has failed to meet financial difficulty obligations under the AFCA Rules. Where the consumer has suffered a financial loss AFCA may award compensation.
Where the FSP has supported an early release for superannuation that AFCA believe inappropriate they will generally not require the FSP to refund the superannuation monies or reimburse any tax paid as a result of the withdrawal of the funds as in most cases the consumer will have obtained the benefit of the funds and will have potentially saved on interest, fees and charges.
To learn more or to read this article in its entirety visit AFCA Approaches - Early Release of Super.
Disclaimer: This article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to be relief on in any way.
Newly appointed Chief Ombudsman, David Locke, has recently announced in an article in the Financial Review that Financial Service Providers (FSPs) that fail to respond quickly to matters brought to the attention of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) may face bigger compensation bills.
Since its inception in November 2018 AFCA claim to have received 11,500 complaints of which 4,000 have been about FSPs. By direct comparison the Financial Ombudsman Service, at its peak, received 2,100 complaints per month.
Mr Locke indicated that responsible lending and misleading sales were among the issues most frequently complained about by consumers and said in a statement, "The volumes of matters coming to us are very high. A lot of people have been treated very poorly by financial institutions over a number of years. The royal commission has shone a bright and forensic light on some issues but most people still feel they haven't been heard or had their matters addressed."
While Mr Locke was unable to provide an actual dollar figure for compensation ordered to date he did indicate that the AFCA cost model is structured so FSPs pay more the longer a dispute goes on so there is an incentive to resolve disputes as quickly as possible.
Of the 11,500 complaints since AFCA came into power 32% of cases have been resolved.
On Thursday, 1 November 2018 the new Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) will begin receiving complaints.
AFCA has released their Complaint Resolution Scheme Rules which you can download from our website which outline the types of complaints that AFCA can deal with and how it will handle complaints from consumers against financiers.
The graphic below depicts how AFCA will determine if a complaint falls within their jurisdiction -
A.4 - Complaints that AFCA Considers
A.4.1 The Complainant must be an Eligible Person.
A.4.2 A complaint must be about a Financial Firm that is an AFCA Member at the time that the complaint is submitted to AFCA (even if not an AFCA Member at the time of the events giving rise to the complaint).
A.4.3 There are some additional requirements that must be met in order for AFCA to be able to consider a complaint. In summary:
a) The complaint must arise from a customer relationship or other circumstance that brings the complaint within AFCA’s jurisdiction.
b) There must be a sufficient connection with Australia.
c) Generally, there is a time limit within which the complaint must be submitted to AFCA.
d) If the complaint is about a Traditional Trustee Company Service that involve Other Affected Parties, the Complainant must get the consent of all Other Affected Parties.
Section B sets out these requirements.
A.4.4 There are some types of complaints that AFCA must exclude and some situations in which AFCA can decide to exclude a complaint.
Section C sets this out.
A.4.5 If AFCA excludes a complaint, AFCA will give written reasons to the Complainant and specify the timeframe within which the Complainant may object to this decision.
A.4.6 If the Complainant objects within the specified timeframe, AFCA will review the decision if AFCA is satisfied that the objection may have substance. If this is the case, AFCA will inform the Financial Firms involved in the complaint and provide them with an opportunity to make submissions before AFCA makes a final decision as to whether to consider the complaint.
A.4.7 Despite other rules, AFCA may consider a complaint if all parties to the complaint consent in writing and AFCA agrees to this. This does not apply to complaints about payment of a death benefit excluded under the time limits in rule B.4.1.3.
B.4 Time Limits for Complaints
B.4.2 Complaints to Which the National Credit Code Applies
Where a complaint relates to a variation of a credit contract as a result of
financial hardship, an unjust transaction or unconscionable interest and other
charges under the National Credit Code, AFCA will generally not handle the
complaint unless it was submitted to AFCA before the later of the following time
a) within two years of the date when the credit contract is rescinded, discharged or otherwise comes to an end; or
b) where, prior to lodging the complaint with AFCA, the Complainant was given an IDR Response in relation to the Complaint from the Financial Firm - within two years of the date of that IDR Response.
C.1 Mandatory Exclusions
C.1.2 Exclusions Applying Generally
AFCA must exclude:
a) A complaint about the level of a fee, premium, charge, rebate or interest rate – unless:
(i) the complaint concerns non-disclosure, misrepresentation or incorrect application of the fee, premium, charge, rebate or interest rate by the Financial Firm having regard to any scale or practices generally applied by that Financial Firm or agreed with that Complainant;
(ii) the complaint concerns a breach of any legal obligation or duty on the part of the Financial Firm; or
(iii) the Complainant’s complaint is with a medical indemnity insurer and pertains to the level of medical indemnity insurance premium or the application of a risk surcharge (as defined in the Services Contract between the Health Insurance Commission, and the Commonwealth of Australia represented by the Department of Health and Ageing, and medical indemnity insurers).
b) A complaint that relates to a decision by a Financial Firm as to how to allocate the benefit of a Financial Service between the competing claims of potential beneficiaries, unless the complaint relates to a Superannuation Complaint or a Traditional Trustee Company Service.
c) A complaint that raises the same events and facts and is brought by the same Complainant as a complaint previously dealt with by AFCA and there is insufficient additional events and facts raised in the new complaint to warrant AFCA considering the new complaint.
d) A complaint that has already been dealt with by a court, dispute resolution tribunal established by legislation or a Predecessor Scheme, unless the Complainant has requested a stay on the execution of a default judgment on the basis of financial difficulty, and the Financial Firm has declined the Complainant’s financial difficulty assistance request, and the request has not previously been dealt with. For the avoidance of doubt, AFCA may consider a complaint by a Primary Producer about issues unresolved after a farm debt mediation.
e) A complaint where the value of the Complainant’s claim when the complaint is submitted to AFCA exceeds $1 million or higher amount that applies as a result of an adjustment in accordance with rule D.4.3. This jurisdictional limit does not apply to:
(i) a Superannuation Complaint; or
(ii) a complaint by a borrower arising from a credit facility provided to a Small Business (including Primary Producer); or
(iii) a complaint to set aside a guarantee supported by security over the guarantor’s primary place of residence.
f) A complaint where the Complainant is a member of a group of Related Bodies Corporate and that group has 100 employees or more.
g) A complaint that would require review of a trustee’s exercise of discretion but this does not exclude:
(i) a complaint to the extent that an allegation is made of bad faith, failure to give fair and proper consideration to the exercise of the discretion, or failure to exercise the discretion in accordance with the purpose for which it was conferred; or
(ii) a Superannuation Complaint,
h) A complaint about professional accountancy services provided by an Accountant unless they are provided in connection with one of the following:
(i) a financial service within the meaning of section 766A of the Corporations Act or section 12BAB of the ASIC Act;
(ii) credit activity within the meaning of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009; or
(iii) tax (financial) advice services within the meaning of the Tax Agent Services Act 2009.
i) A complaint about a:
(i) Privacy Act Participant that does not relate to a right or obligation arising under the Privacy Act; or
(ii) CDR Participant that does not relate to a right or obligation arising under the Consumer Data Framework.
C.2 AFCA's Discretion Not to Consider Complaints
AFCA may in its discretion exclude a complaint, if AFCA considers this course of action is appropriate.
AFCA will not exercise its discretion to exclude a complaint lightly. The discretion will only be used in cases where there are compelling reasons for deciding that AFCA should not consider the complaint.
D.3 Compensation for Complaints Other Than Superannuation Complaints
An AFCA Decision Maker may decide that the Financial Firm is to compensate the Complainant for direct financial loss. When calculating the value of such a remedy, monetary compensation and any remedy where the value can readily be calculated, such as the waiving of a debt, are included.
D.4 sets out the maximum amount that an AFCA Decision Maker can award for direct financial loss.
In addition or instead, an AFCA Decision Maker may decide that the Financial Firm is to compensate the Complainant for indirect financial loss. This is not the case if the complaint arises as a result of a claim:
a) on a General Insurance Policy that expressly excludes such liability; or
b) by the Complainant under another person’s Motor Vehicle Insurance Product.
D.4 sets out the maximum amount that an AFCA Decision Maker can award for indirect financial loss.
An AFCA Decision Maker may decide that the Financial Firm is to compensate the Complainant for non-financial loss:
a) for a complaint relating to an individual’s privacy rights - injury has occurred to the Complainant’s feelings or humiliation has been suffered by the Complainant; or
b) for other complaints – an unusual degree or extent of physical inconvenience, time taken to resolve the situation or interference with the Complainant’s expectation of enjoyment or peace of mind has occurred.
This type of compensation, however, is not permitted if the complaint arises as a result of a claim on a General Insurance Policy that expressly excludes such liability.
D.4 sets out the maximum amount that an AFCA Decision Maker can award for non-financial loss.
D.4 Monetary Limits for Complaints Other Than Superannuation Complaints -
As indicated above, AFCA will apply a new definition for small business and will also introduce the following monetary limits and compensation caps:
The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) has provided transition relief for members of the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO) who are currently awaiting membership certificates to be issued by the new Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).
In a statement to the media ASIC said, "ASIC understands that some licensees and credit representatives who are members of the CIO scheme have not yet obtained their membership to the AFCA scheme. ASIC understands that this includes licensees and credit representatives who: have lodged an application with AFCA Ltd, but membership has not yet been approved; and have not yet lodged an application with AFCA Ltd."
The initial deadline for licence holders was Friday, 21 September 2018 however ASIC said it would be giving transitional relief to prevent authorisations from becoming invalid due to circumstances however stressed to representatives affected by the changeover delays that they would only be granted relief as long as they ensure that their membership with CIO is maintained. A representative of ASIC went on to say that, "If you are not a member on 1 November, your authorisation will become invalid, and you will need to cease providing credit activities."
ASIC has recently sent a reminder to all financial services and credit licensees to join AFCA which combines the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman.
Source: TheAdviser - September 2018
In our June 2018 edition of Debt Collection News we published our article ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 Internal and External Dispute Resolution.
Regulatory Guide 139 (RG139) now appears to be out of amended draft form and can be download here with ASIC reminding Creditors that RG139 is only in place until all current disputes with the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman have closed -
Note (20 June 2018): In the transition to the commencement of the new, single EDR scheme—the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA)—on 1 November 2018, complaints made to the FOS and CIO schemes will continue to be dealt with under the relevant scheme’s terms of reference and rules that applied when the complaint was made.
This guide provides the framework for those versions of the terms of reference and rules. It will remain in force until all those complaints are closed. At that time, we will withdraw RG 139. Regulatory Guide 267 Oversight of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (RG 267) sets out how we will perform our oversight role in relation to the AFCA scheme.
As a reminder the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) will start accepting complaints from 01/11/2018 with Creditors required to ensure that all final response letters and "delay" letters include reference to both relevant predecessor EDR schemes from 21/09/2018.
If you require clarification of the new requirements please contact Collection Law Partners on (02) 8923-1613.
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has recently released a consultation paper which sets out how the new external dispute resolution scheme proposes to recover the cost of it operations.
A three-phase funding model has been developed by AFCA. Extracted from the AFCA Funding Model Overview:Phase I - Transition Funding
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has now released Regulatory Guide 267 Oversight of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority ahead of the 1 November 2018 transition.
The RG sets out how ASIC will perform their oversight role in relation to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) and includes guidance regarding members AFCA membership obligations.
ASIC has noted that it will retain its existing guidance under RG 139 until all complaints made under the existing schemes have been resolved and also stated, "Licensees and credit representatives must continue to maintain their EDR [external dispute resolution] membership through the transitional period, including paying membership and other scheme fees in full as required."
The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) has recently released a revised version of Regulatory Guide 165 - Licensing: Internal and External Dispute Resolution.
The guide, which should be read in conjunction with RG139, which is currently in an amended draft form, specifically updates the transitional arrangements for disclosure of AFCA contact details in final response letters and "delay letter". An extract of which has been reproduced below:
AFCA will commence receiving complaints about financial service providers (including superannuation trustees and RSA providers), credit providers, credit service providers or unlicensed COI lenders on 1 November 2018.
To promote consumer awareness of their rights to pursue a complaint in the transition to commencement of AFCA, these providers and lenders must:
• ensure that IDR final response letters and ‘delay letters’ (see RG 165.92) issued on or after 21 September 2018 and before 1 November 2018 include references to both the relevant predecessor EDR scheme (which will be able to receive complaints only up until 31 October 2018) and AFCA (which will be able to receive complaints on and after 1 November 2018)—we have set out example text below for IDR final response letters; and
• ensure that such letters issued on or after 1 February 2019 include references to AFCA but not the predecessor EDR schemes. Letters issued between 1 November 2018 and 1 February 2019 may continue to include references to both the predecessor EDR scheme and AFCA, provided it is clear that only AFCA can receive complaints after 1 November 2018.
Example text for members of the Financial Ombudsman Service:
If you are not satisfied with our response, you may lodge a complaint:
• with the Financial Ombudsman Service Australia if lodged before 1 November 2018:
Phone: 1800 367 287
Mail: Financial Ombudsman Service Limited
GPO Box 3
Melbourne VIC 3001; or
• with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority if lodged on or after 1 November 2018:
Phone: 1800 931 678
Mail: Australian Financial Complaints Authority
GPO Box 3
Melbourne VIC 3001
Download RG165 May 2018
The Financial Services Royal Commission has recently heard evidence from a widow that the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) made a Determination that she should pay her deceased husband's business loans worth $226,000 over a period of 12 to 18 months.
The evidence was highlighted after the widow, Jennifer Low, was pursued by Suncorp for the repayment of business loans that were provided to her and her late husband after a workplace accident claimed Mr Low's life in 2016. It is understood that Ms Low approached the Consumer Action Law Centre for assistance when Ms Low proposed to pay off the outstanding debt over the loans original 17 year term with monthly repayments of $1,111 which was higher than the contractual repayment however FOS declined her proposal.
FOS found that it would be reasonable for Ms Low to repay the loan, interest free, within 12 to 18 months or a maximum of 5 years. During the hearing, Phillip Field, Lead Ombudsman for Banking and Finance was forced to explain his decision where he claimed that he did not want Ms Low to be still paying the debt in her 80's. Mr Field told the royal commission, "What I had in mind was that situation where you had somebody who was in their 60s paying it until they’re 80. And certainly, from my perspective, if a bank were to lend to somebody in that scenario, I would regard that as not reasonable." He went on to say in the witness box, "In hindsight, I don’t think that was the correct thing to do. I think I should have accepted that the [Consumer Action Law Centre] position was correct and then got on the phone to the bank then and there to try and resolve the matter. I should have said that… once the arrears were cleared on — and at the time of that call it was, but provided the arrears — any arrears on the interest-free loan were also cleared, then if she could make those payments, she was entitled to do so and it would be interest-free until it was paid off."
While the Low Family has not yet accepted Suncorp's offer to extend the repayment period to 5 years instead of 12-18 months, Mr Field said that he expects the bank to change their position and allow Ms Low to make monthly principal-only repayments for the duration of the loan as per her original proposal.
Source: mortgagebusiness - May 2018
This month the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) has released an information sheet that outlines how the new External Dispute Resolution (EDR) scheme will be implemented over the coming months.
If you recall from our previous article, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) will operate from Thursday, 1 November 2018 and will replace FOS, CIO and the SCT so consumers have access to only 1 scheme for future disputes. The latest release from FOS provides more details regarding the transition including an announcement of the new AFCA Board and key dates to remember.
You can read the release on the FOS website.