CHOICE membership

Should regulators make complaints data public?

consumer-rights
complaints
acl

#1

Currently, NSW Fair Trading is the only consumer law regulator publishing details about the companies it receives the most complaints about, on a monthly basis, via its Complaints Register.

You have the opportunity to show that the public supports this initiative by providing comments via a survey you can access here.

I think the Register is a fantastic initiative, and would love to see other regulators adopt a similar approach. It provides a strong incentive for businesses to improve their complaints handling to keep their name off the Register, and it is also a source of valuable information about really dodgy businesses who keep topping the list (Viagogo and Android Enjoyed, to name two that CHOICE has received complaints about).

I would encourage everyone who wants to see more complaint data published to fill out the survey. Peak business and industry groups will be making submissions, and some of these groups have strongly opposed the Register in the past - there is a real need to make sure consumer voices are heard, too, to help ensure the Register isn’t watered down.

CHOICE will also be making a formal submission, so if you have any more detailed feedback or comments on the Register that you’d like to share, please comment here - thoughts from the Community are always welcome!


#3

Tagging our @Defender-Black and @Consumer-Campaigner groups in case anyone would like to contribute.


#4

My view is yes, if the compaints are proven to be reasonable, are repetitive and in the public interest.

One off complaints or those due to say a one off problem may not be as important to report as their life is limited.


#5

I agree - there may not be much utility for a consumer in publishing single, one off complaints as these don’t necessarily indicate broader issues with a company.

Fair Trading’s approach is to include businesses on the Register if the regulator receives 10 or more complaints about them in a calendar month.


#6

Thanks @SarahAgar. I wasn’t aware there was a register.

Here’s an anomaly in the questions:
"Should Fair Trading change the minimum number of complaints required before a business appears on the Register?
Currently, a business appears on the Register if Fair Trading receives 10 or more complaints about it in a calendar month.
Yes
No
Not sure "

If you select Yes, then the following questions drops down:
"What should the minimum number be and why?
Between 11 and 15
Between 16 and 20
21 or more "

There is no option to lower the number of complaints in a calendar month.

In my opinion if Fair Trading receives a complaint every three days (10/mth), about a small business there is something seriously wrong. Perhaps for a large retail group, that may be OK, but there is no correlation to the business size here. There should be.

The register should be on line. There could be some significant complaints which don’t see the light of day for three months or more because of the publishing gaps. It would be much fairer to have it constantly updated.

This looks like a rudimentary spreadsheet. It needs a full blown on-line database to be built up with a lot more information to make it useful. It needs to be sortable, and a historical database built to permit searching, for example for phoenix operations, or for entities that don’t abide by the ACL.


#7

Completed the survey


#8

Agreed … it’s not a survey. I’ve completed it.


#9

I do not agree there should be a metric of an absolute number of complaints prior to pubication. A small business with 1000 sales per week should not be on the same metrics as one with 100,000 per week, for eg 10 complaints, and I accept quantifying businesses into ‘size bins’ might not be easy nor agreeable to the business side; so binning by turnover or anything else becomes subjective to make ‘cases’ for small, medium, and large businesses.

The fairest method seems to list numbers of complaints formally raised, from ‘1’, number of complaints accepted as being non-frivolous (how?), number resolved in consumers interest, and number resolved in business’ interest, with number of weeks prior to being closed.

Beyond fair trading, I would like to see EVERY cafe/restaurant health inspection report and whether it has been timely rectified, published in every state. I believe only NSW does it, and the excuses the other states use is that it would be unfair for a business to be ‘publicly shamed’ for a once off that is corrected. My view is it is even more unfair to consumers to not know which businesses have let their eyes wander from ‘the ball’.


#10

Will there be any stakeholder meetings or just written submissions? On complex topics like these stakeholder meetings are really useful, esp for consumers and their orgs.
Monthly data may be too frequent and results in low numbers. 2 or 3 monthly reporting might be better.
Complaints numbers are much more meaningful if related to the size of business or customer number, However, I recognize that this is difficult to achieve.
Info about the types of complaint would be helpful.
Need to remember that consumers usually only complain when they are incurring significant financial loss. As a result, there are often relatively few complaints about poor service eg non response to a complaint, unhealthful/unskilled staff, being moved from person to person, having long waits on the phone, lack of a phone number to ring, etc. Yet poor service can be a major cause of consumer detriment.

.


#11

That’s really useful feedback, thanks @meltam

I think in terms of the way the Register is presented, it’s partially a resourcing issue. What do you think of this consumer complaints register from the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

I like the clear links to go to the data or download the API, the searchable nature of it and the fact that it provides information on complaint resolution.


#12

Hi @ijarratt - there are stakeholder meetings, CHOICE has been invited to one this week. I’m not sure how extensive the consultation will be, given it’s all NSW-based.


#13

Interesting link @SarahAgar.

Yes The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database is much more usable, and more useful. If that were broadened out to include all consumer complaints here in Oz it would be a leap ahead for consumers.

I think EVERY complaint should be logged, and I note they update daily. Yeehaa. Way to go! If businesses knew that they were to get their names published they may(?) act in a more conciliatory fashion, and consumers could look and learn both positively and negatively from other people. (In a quick flick sample, I found a few claims which appeared most naive or desperate.)

This is definitely the way to go!


#14

When I did the survey a few days ago (even though we are north of the border), I made this comment that the size of the business (and possibly using a $ turnover metric as information on company size as OFT in NSW are unlikely to have total customer numbers) is important. Agree that a big business with say 100 complaints out of a million customers is not as much as an issue as 10 complaints from a small business with only 100 customers.


#15

I support the idea that every valid complaint should be disclosed. No vindictive or nefarious complaints should be in the register. The public can then decide if the complaint is a trivial or serious matter for themselves. And yeah if the business know every one of the complaints is going to be public it may make them more inclined not to make the mistakes/errors/bad decisions in the first place.

Intensive efforts would be needed to keep it updated but I am sure there are enough Admin officers in the “Bureau’s” workforce to easily cope.


#16

Yes, but…

It could be relatively easy to paint a competitor in a bad light by gaming a complaints system. I agree with @TheBBG that the size and perhaps type of business need to be taken into account before deciding whether to publish.

It is easy to tarnish a reputation, and so I also think it is important that the complaints be assessed as ‘non-frivolous’ before anything is published.

Next comes the question of what should be published. It appears from a brief glance that the NSW Fair Trading Complaints Register referred to in the original post is far from perfect. I decided to look at the most recent report - March 2018 - and clicked on the second-most-complained about business (Kogan). The resulting ‘data visualisation’ (a table does not meet that definition, NSW Fair Trading!) told me that the 46 complaints were made in relation to an ‘online’ business location’, and then listed them by product type! Retail - homewares; Retail - Laptops; etc. This is not useful data - it doesn’t tell me anything about the problem! Was it a delivery complaint? Product not as described? Buyer stupidity? None of this information is shown! It is impossible to even say whether the problem was caused by Kogan or their delivery company, for instance!

At least with the Apple complaints I could see which business location (or online) - but still, the reported information is useless to the consumer!

Yes, a register of complaints makes sense - but what the NSW government has produced is largely meaningless.

That would terrify any small business-person. It simply makes too easy the destruction of your business by a competitor.


split this topic #17

A post was split to a new topic: Android Enjoyed troubles


#18

I acknowledge your point on vindictive behaviour. This can already occur online on multiple review sites and I include Choice Community in that selection, though Choice does it’s best to ensure fair treatment as I am sure most review sites also do.

I would also hope is that a Govt Body tasked with this would be establishing if a complaint is vindictive, nefarious or frivolous and that if it is vindictive/nefarious/frivolous it is either not published OR a field showing the outcome/the resolution status would reflect that reason. I have amended my post to reflect that.

I would also hope and like to think that severe penalties for making such complaints would be in place and used to deter them being made. But a complaint before it is in the register has probably passed some steps before it is listed. This probably needs to be made much clearer on their site if it is the case or they need to put that process in place if it isn’t.

I like the one linked to in @meltam’s post. It is more in depth and shows a summary of the outcome but also has some privacy. So if it can work there why not here?

It is, I am guessing, still open to possible abuse but I am sure that this is remedied as part of the review process. It also does not seem to publish on receipt but rather that happens some steps away from the original receipt of the complaint as shown on their website:

"Learn how the complaint process works

When you submit a complaint to the CFPB, your complaint goes through several steps that help you get a response about your issue and help us identify problems in the marketplace.

  1. Complaint submitted
    You submit a complaint about an issue you have with a company about a consumer financial product or service. You will receive email updates and can log in to track the status of your complaint.

  2. Review and route
    We’ll forward your complaint and any documents you provide to the company and work to get a response from them. If we find that another government agency would be better able to assist, we will forward your complaint to them and let you know.

  3. Company response
    The company reviews your complaint, communicates with you as needed, and reports back about the steps taken or that will be taken on the issue you identify in your complaint.

  4. Complaint published
    We publish information about your complaint—such as the subject and date of the complaint—on our public Consumer Complaint Database. With your consent we also publish your description of what happened, after taking steps to remove personal information.

  5. Consumer review
    We will let you know when the company responds. You’ll be able to review the company’s response and will have 60 days to provide feedback about the company’s response."


#19

I agree - the US CFPB actually makes its data into much more than a static spreadsheet, now that I have looked at their website.

NSW has much to learn.


#20

The complainant would necessarily need to be identified by the regulator although not made public. There could be reasonable protection against competitors making false complaints. It could also be legislated that such false complaints were a crime with penalties.


#21

Hi @postulative, Fair Trading does have a system in place to weed out vexatious complaints - they double-check that the person hasn’t lodged a bunch of complaints against the same trader, and they also check that the complainant isn’t a business. It’s still possible that a ‘false’ complaint could slip through, but I think that Fair Trading’s register has more checks in place than most of the other standard online databases of complaints (e.g. online review platforms).