The latest communication from the Consumer Action Law Centre.
Welcome to our eNewsletter for June which is a very brief snapshot of what we have been doing in the last couple of months.
Consumer Action recognises National Reconciliation Week. The 2021 theme is “More than a Word. Reconciliation takes Action”, urging the reconciliation movement towards braver and more impactful action. To mark the week, our team listened to a speech from Thomas Mayor at the recent Financial Counselling Australia conference who spoke about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and calls for First Nations voices to be recognised in the Constitution and the need for structural reform for socio-economic improvement. Consumer Action supports calls for change from First Nations peoples to address systemic racial injustice and discrimination.
On the campaigning front, our Save Safe Lending campaign had a major success in late March when, as a result of fierce and unrelenting cross-sector advocacy, the Bill to gut responsible lending protections was stalled in the Senate. Since then, there have been some very encouraging signals from key crossbenchers and now it looks increasingly likely the Government will not get the numbers it needs to pass the Bill. But we can’t become complacent.
As the Hayne Royal Commission said in its first recommendation responsible lending protections need to be better enforced, not eroded. With our many partners, we will keep fighting this wrong-headed Bill until the threat to responsible lending laws disappears. You can sign up to campaign updates at www.debtdisaster.com.au.
Other major news: the bad behaviour of telcos was made glaringly obvious in May with the Federal Courts upholding of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s $50 million fine on Telstra for unconscionable mis-selling in remote Indigenous communities. Soon after, a report from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman confirmed the systemic issues we see in calls to our financial counsellors and lawyers. We are continuing to advocate for stronger consumer protections and improvements to telco industry practices.
In late May, I was delighted to hear the Victorian Government introduced legislation taking energy retailers to task by banning of high-pressure sales tactics like unsolicited door-to-door sales and cold-calling. We have been campaigning to make this happen for years. The Victorian Government also announced plans to ban door-to-door sales of solar panels from September 2021, which is a significant win for consumers.
Finally, Consumer Action welcomed the news that Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP has made new regulations requiring ‘debt vultures’ to be properly licenced if they are going to provide services such as debt negotiation and credit repair. For far too long, debt vultures have had free rein to do their worst. These licensing reforms are a great first step to finally close the regulatory loophole these firms exploit.
We are continuing to provide services to the Victorian community throughout the current lockdown, and our operating hours will remain the same. Our thoughts are with all of our fellow Victorians during this time.
I hope you enjoy this issue.
–Gerard Brody, CEO
Our operating hours
Read our latest submissions
27 May 2021: Access, pricing and incentive arrangements for Distributed Energy Resources
25 May 2021: Victorian Default Offer 2021 variation
21 May 2021 : Consultation on Draft Regulator Performance Guide
18 May 2021 : Framework for reform - modernising Victoria’s building system
14 May 2021: Interacting Gambling Amendment (Prohibition on Credit Card Use) Bill 2020
5 May 2021: The 2021 Water Price Review - Melbourne Water Draft Decision
3 May 2021: Retirement Villages Act Review - Options Paper submission
23 April 2021: Implementing the Royal Commission recommendations: The deferred sales model for add-on insurance
14 April 2021: Review of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority
31 March 2021: Consumer remediation: Update to ASIC Regulatory Guide 256
18 March 2021: Our concerns about proposed changes to the governance standards for registered charities
10 March 2021: Australian Communications Media Authority compliance priorities
5 March 2021: Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Bill 2021
REPORT: The New Energy Tech Code
Some solar panel retailers offering buy-now-pay-later finance engaged in predatory unsolicited sales practices, signed people up to unaffordable finance arrangements and inflated the cost of solar panels. Here is our latest report on the issue.
Thousands of energy disconnections a deep concern
Over 2000 Victorian households (2046 electricity and 110 gas customers) were disconnected from their energy supply in April alone. Consumer Action is calling for improved financial hardship practices and lower energy prices for consumers.
Aggressive retail energy & solar sales banned in Victoria
The Victorian Government has moved to ban high pressure sales tactics in energy. “These new laws should mean fewer Victorians will experience wrongful disconnections or intrusive door-knocking or cold-calling,” said CEO Gerard Brody.
Financial counsellors get the message out
Our financial counsellors (FCs) are skilled at talking to the media, whether online, in print, on radio or TV, about the impact of their work on clients. Since March they have been featured on ABC, SBS, and many more. Watch FC Shungu talk about mortgage stress and listen to FC Kirsty on controlling spiralling debt in multiple languages.
Contact the National Debt Helpline
Tougher debt vulture licensing a good first step
Under changes made on Friday 30 April 2021, all firms spruiking debt management or credit repair services will need to apply for an Australian Credit Licence by 1 July 2021. This means firms will need to act ‘efficiently, honestly and fairly,’ meet ‘fit and proper person’ requirements, and offer customers free dispute resolution through the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
Report launch: Consumer issues in Victoria’s Aboriginal Communities during 2020
Join us for the launch of our latest report, which shows how our integrated project with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service grappled with the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, our approach to community engagement and the key consumer, credit and debt issues raised by Victorian Aboriginal community members during 2020.
Register for the Webinar
All our latest media releases
Includes media releases on the Save Safe Lending campaign and pushes to regulate BNPL, clip debt vulture wings and limit exemptions to add-on junk insurance.
PODCAST: How do we evaluate the impact of our work?
We hear a lot about the importance of measuring the impact of advocacy and case work but what is it and how can analysis and measurement make a positive difference?
A brief chat with Katia Sanderson, our Manager of Impact, Monitoring and Evaluation.
Listen to the podcast
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Linkedin @Consumer Action Law Centre