In 2022–23, Consumer Affairs Victoria focused on supporting Victorians through a year of significant economic pressures.
Victorians grappled with limited rental supply and rising rental costs. CAV provided important support in key areas, undertaking a record number of excessive rent reviews in cases where renters felt that rental increases were unreasonable. We also funded state-wide, place-based renter assistance and financial counselling services to support Victorians in need.
Rooming houses are the often the last resort for some of the most vulnerable Victorians, and CAV is committed to their effective regulation. In 2023 the department developed new regulations to make rooming houses safer and more comfortable, and CAV actively monitors the rooming house sector for regulation compliance.
Many Victorians were impacted by the collapse of domestic home builders in 2022–23 and needed support to navigate consumer processes at a time when they were under significant stress. In response CAV undertook activities to inform consumers about their rights and where to go with any questions. Information was provided via CAV’s Building Information phone line, dedicated website content and social media. CAV also worked closely with other agencies such as the Victorian Building Authority, including issuing a joint communication to builders about their obligations under Victorian building legislation, and we continue to assess the situation for any regulatory concerns.
The October 2022 floods impacted many Victorian families in 2022–23 and CAV responded with several important supports. We established a dedicated floods phone hotline and updated the CAV website to provide clear information on rights and CAV’s relief services available. A large number of our frontline staff were also seconded to assist other government agencies get immediate emergency assistance to impacted Victorians.
We also administered additional financial counselling services, supporting clients to negotiate with banks and insurance agencies, and to access grants.
Tenancy Stress Victoria was also established to provide affected renters with access to integrated legal, social work and financial counselling support.
In September 2022 the Victorian Government announced a new underquoting taskforce to be embedded within CAV. As we have scaled up the taskforce’s resources and activities, it has taken a zero-tolerance approach to agents failing to comply with their obligations. By the end of June 2023 we had reviewed 375 sales files to identify instances of non-compliance and issued 48 infringements (totalling more than $520,000) and 37 official warnings, using targeted activities based on market intelligence. The taskforce will continue its work to increase education and enforce compliance with Victoria’s laws outlawing underquoting in 2023–24, to ensure Victorians don’t waste time and money when looking to buy a home.
In early 2023, CAV joined the newly formed Department of Government Services (DGS) as part of the Government’s machinery of government changes.
DGS was established to improve how Victorians and businesses engage with government, bringing important day-to-day services together in one department. The department is doing this by connecting and digitising systems and platforms across state and local government as well as streamlining corporate and procurement services.
Consistent with this mission, we have increasingly leveraged digital technologies to make it easier and quicker for Victorians to access information and for businesses to comply with obligations. The myCAV portal was expanded to include motor car traders and second-hand dealers and pawnbrokers. In a first for licensing applicants using myCAV, engineers can use Service Victoria’s online identity verification service to streamline the registration process and reduce the administrative burden for them. We continued to integrate this service into more myCAV transactions in 2022–23, to make it easier for other users to provide and verify their identity online.
We also delivered digital upgrades to the CAV website. The website is a vital resource that helps consumers access information and services and understand their rights. It also supports business to understand their obligations. This year we undertook a significant content uplift and restructuring of the website navigation. The project is delivering an increasingly human-centric site with content that is easier to find and understand. We will continue to improve content and publish navigation upgrades during the coming year.
At the end of 2022–2023 we successfully acquitted the Statement of Expectations we received from the Minister in 2021. As directed by the Minister, we supported Victorian economic and social recovery, improved the timeliness of our services, leveraged risk-based strategies to target key compliance issues and consistently provided valuable compliance related assistance and advice. A new Statement of Expectations was received from our Minister in 2023 and has been integrated into our annual planning process.
In 2022–23, extensive consultation helped us to craft a new Strategic Plan. The Plan articulates our vision for a fair and safe marketplace in Victoria, confirms the outcomes we are working to achieve, and defines where we will focus our efforts to achieve these outcomes. We will be publishing this plan in early 2023–24.
We also finalised new annual regulatory priorities for 2023–24, which reflect CAV’s intelligence on emerging marketplace risks, government priorities and stakeholder feedback. Some regulatory priorities will help protect Victorians from rising cost of living pressures. These include enforcing rooming house and rental provider compliance with minimum standards and addressing prohibited debt collection practices. The regulatory priorities will also help direct our resources to address key risks facing the Victorian community, which include estate agent underquoting, poor motor car trading practices and product safety concerns affecting children.
We look forward to leveraging our new Plan and regulatory priorities to communicate our priorities to the community and direct our resources to bringing the greatest possible benefit to Victorian consumers, renters, business and the community.
I would like to thank our former Ministers; the Hon Melissa Horne MP for her support over a number of years (including for some of this reporting period) and her strong commitment to providing assistance to consumers and renters experiencing hardship; and the Hon Danny Pearson MP, for his support of our work at CAV, especially during a time of transition and change as we joined DGS. We are looking forward to working with our new Minister, the Hon Gabrielle Williams MP over the year ahead.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank our colleagues in funded agencies working hard every day to provide advice, support and advocacy to vulnerable Victorians. I thank as well our partners across government and regulators. Their support and collaboration is crucial to our ability to achieve outcomes for the community. Our staff have shown a strong commitment to providing help and achieving positive outcomes for the Victorian community over a year of pressures and change and I’d like to recognise and thank them again for their efforts.
We look forward to leveraging our new Plan, new regulatory priorities, and upgraded digital and intelligence capabilities in the coming year to support Victorians and achieve our vision of a fair, safe and competitive marketplace for all.
Executive Director, Regulatory Services &
Director, Consumer Affairs Victoria