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Leap in number of complaints from Indigenous people to financial services resolution scheme

Giovanni Torre -

The 2022-23 financial year saw a significant increase in the number of complaints made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Australia's financial dispute resolution scheme.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority received 2,523 complaints from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 2022-23, a rise of 13 per cent on the previous year.

The three products most raised as a matter of concern by First Nations people were personal transaction accounts, personal loans and credit cards. The most common issues were unauthorised transactions (including scams), delays in insurance claim handling, and service quality.

More than one in 10 complaints submitted by First Nations peoples were about financial hardship. This compares with one in 20 involving hardship for AFCA complaints overall.

AFCA's Deputy Chief Ombudsman, Dr June Smith, said the fact that there are more than double the proportion of complaints about hardship among First Nations peoples is of great concern to AFCA.

"We call on financial firms to do more to address this. We encourage firms to be more proactive about identifying First Nations customers in hardship and working with them to alleviate their financial problems," she said.

Dr Smith added that there was still significant work to do to improve financial inclusion for all First Nations peoples.

"First Nations peoples should be served by organisations that are culturally aware and engaged in culturally sensitive practice."

Dr Smith said AFCA continued to review its own performance against this goal.

With regard to financial hardship, Dr Smith said AFCA prioritises vulnerable complainants and provides them with additional assistance to make the complaint process less stressful.

"We encourage people to indicate when lodging a complaint that they may need flexibility with the AFCA process – such as longer deadlines – if they are experiencing difficult circumstances," she said.

"People can appoint a representative – whether that's a friend or family member or a financial counsellor – to walk alongside them during the process," she said. AFCA could also provide referrals to other free community support services.

Raylene Bellottie, a proud Nanda woman from Yamatji Country, was recently appointed as an AFCA director and assumes the role on 1 January next year.

AFCA's Annual Review is available online.

Overall, the Authority (AFCA) received nearly 97,000 complaints in 2022-23, in banking and finance, investments and advice, insurance and superannuation. This was a rise of 34 per cent and a record number of complaints.

About three per cent of those complaints were submitted by people who self-identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

AFCA's dispute resolution service is free for consumers and small businesses. Complaints can be lodged online, by mail or via a free call to 1800 931 678.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority is a non-government ombudsman service providing free, fair and independent dispute resolution to individual consumers and small businesses when they are not able to resolve complaints directly with financial firms in banking and finance, insurance, investments and advice, and superannuation. AFCA aims to help the parties reach agreement, but it can issue decisions that are binding on financial firms.

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