ACCC and Ombudsmen an important connection in consumer protection

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims today outlined the continued importance of regulators and Ombudsmen working together to identify issues that pose harm to consumers.

“We must alter governance arrangements and systems for Ombudsmen programs where those arrangements prevent or delay prompt sharing of information or disclosure of systemic issues,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims was speaking at a conference marking 50 years since the appointment of the first Ombudsman in Australia or New Zealand. Sir Guy Powles was the first Ombudsman, appointed in New Zealand in 1962, followed quickly by Ombudsmen in Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria.

Mr Sims said fast action to fix widespread consumer problems is a joint aim of regulators and Ombudsmen.

“I hope we can take an increasingly active approach to identifying these issues in industry sectors, where many consumers are clearly dissatisfied, and use our collective means to address those expeditiously.”

“Our performance in recognising these issues is uneven across the sectors.”

“Ombudsmen are in the right place to resolve individual complaints but it then needs to be asked, what are the underlying causes, and once identified, can they be addressed by one or more regulators?” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims went on to highlight recent work by various energy Ombudsmen and the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) in assisting the ACCC to take action over door-to-door selling, an area where complaints evidence suggests there is consumer detriment.

The case arose from recognition by energy Ombudsmen of a continuing issue that is having widespread effect on consumers.

Mr Sims also discussed sections of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) relevant to the work of ombudsmen.

Acknowledging the service of Ombudsmen in the region, Mr Sims said as independent parties, Ombudsmen can improve the quality of administration by casting light on shortcomings and identifying areas of potential improvement.

“The institution of the Ombudsman recognises that living in a democratic society entitles people to exercise the rights we widely recognise and that they are entitled to enjoy rights as consumers of goods and services, and to be treated fairly by public officials and businesses.”