Victorians exercise their consumer rights

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We empower Victorians to exercise their consumer rights by providing them with information and support.

We continue to work with partner organisations to improve the information we provide, and to target groups with specialised information needs.

In 2017–18, we provided information and advice to over 304,000 callers to our telephone service and responded to more than 65,000 written and online queries. Our social media presence continues to grow with 42,600 Facebook likes and 10,175 Twitter followers.

We received 3.6 million visits to our website, which provides education, advice and selfhelp resources in a range of formats that are easy to find, understand and act on.

We continued to focus on promoting scams awareness, with targeted campaigns to the Victorian community to help reduce detriment and harm.

In response to the recommendations of the Family Violence Royal Commission we enabled family violence training to over 200 financial counsellors across Victoria.

Almost 33,000 Victorians used our financial counselling service this year, including more than 2,400 victims of family violence through our specialist family violence financial counselling program.

Partnerships are important to us. We worked closely with the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria, transferring some of our relationship-based dispute resolution services to this team, and provided support to Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria during a year of high demand for its services.

Information, advice and assistance provided to consumers

  2015–16 2016–17 2017–18
Information and advice
Calls answered1 349,985 325,773 304,048
Advice provided to resolve disputes
Disputes finalised2 8,409 8,656 6,827
Digital
Website visits3 2,920,107 3,425,370 3,603,610
Letters and email contacts 62,669 59,525 65,378
Twitter followers 8,120 9,487 10,175
Facebook page likes 28,548 36,555 42,600
YouTube video views4 52,526 72,488 371,759
Community information
Information sessions 831 946 936
Face-to-face or intensive assistance (funded community services)
Victorians assisted under the Consumer Assistance and Advocacy Program 429 430 618
Clients assisted with financial counselling 34,139 31,106 32,839

1 An increase in uptake of our digital services resulted in a reduced need for further telephone assistance.

2 A new model of dispute resolution focused on front-line compliance and resolution, together with the establishment of Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria and website improvements, have resulted in a decrease in disputes finalised.

3 CAV website visits for 2015–16 and 2016–17 have been adjusted to remove previously reported sessions attributed to uptime monitoring.

4 The release of three scam videos in May 2018 largely influenced the increase in YouTube video views.

To support victims of family violence, we arranged training to almost 200 financial counsellors across Victoria to respond to economic abuse.

The training was delivered by Women’s Legal Service Victoria, in partnership with Women’s Information Referral Exchange, across 10 metropolitan and four regional locations.

Financial counsellors can assist vulnerable women who have experienced economic abuse to access financial hardship programs and negotiate with creditors and debt collectors to protect assets from repossession.

The Victorian Government provided $1.5 million for a specialist family violence financial counselling service this financial year, in response to the recommendations of the Family Violence Royal Commission.

The funding provides for 10.6 full-time equivalent family violence financial counsellors across the state. These specialist staff have provided services to more than 4,100 clients since October 2016.

This specialist service is an extension of our existing Financial Counselling Program. The program provides free, independent and confidential telephone or face-to-face counselling sessions delivered by community agencies across Victoria. Almost 33,000 Victorians were assisted with financial counselling in 2017–18.

Scams continue to pose a risk to our community, especially older Victorians. Awareness is the best protection.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commissioner (ACCC) reported that in 2017 more than 33,000 scam reports were made by Victorians, accounting for $22.9 million in losses - an increase of more than $4 million on the previous year.

Scammers most commonly reach victims over the telephone and online: telephone, email, social networking and internet scams accounted for 85 per cent of losses across Australia, from more than 130,000 reports.

In May this year, we launched a new campaign, in partnership with Crime Stoppers Victoria, providing tips and advice to older Victorians, to help them avoid falling for scams.

We are delivering education sessions at libraries across the state, providing increasingly tech-adopting older Victorians with tools to avoid scams while online.

Australians aged over 60 are the fastest growing online user group in the country – so educating senior Victorians about how to protect online personal information from scammers is all the more important.

Learn how to be scam savvy.

 

We warned Victorians about an Australian Tax Office (ATO) telephone scam which threatened arrest for unpaid taxes.

Our video warning went viral, reaching an estimated audience of over five million people after being featured by numerous print, radio and TV media outlets.

Utilising recorded audio from the telephone scam, we created a short video warning the public to be aware, and explaining what to do if they suspect an ATO scam.

We liaised with the ATO before sharing the video on our Facebook and Twitter channels in July 2017, which coincided with the new financial year.

Our social media posts about the scam received hundreds of engagements, and the story was organically picked up by news websites.

The ATO received more than 48,000 scam reports between July and October last year.

 

  

Travelling con men often target elderly or isolated residents. They operate door-to-door, offering cheap deals on home maintenance jobs, from driveway resurfacing and roof repair to garden maintenance and odd jobs.

They ask for cash before starting work and frequently disappear as soon as they receive payment. If travelling con men do any work, it is often unfinished or of a poor standard. They move quickly and usually only give a first name and mobile number – so tracking them down is difficult.

In December 2017, our Grampians team worked with Crime Stoppers Victoria to warn Ballarat residents about travelling con men.

Ballarat pensioner Robert Harper spoke about his experience losing hundreds of dollars to travelling con men, who promised to seal his driveway and clean the exterior of his house.

To raise awareness among regional residents, the campaign featured in local newspapers, on radio and in television news coverage.

The initiative was part of our new state-wide campaign, launched in October 2017 by Minister for Consumer Affairs Marlene Kairouz, aimed at helping people identify and avoid travelling con men. The campaign, in partnership with Crime Stoppers Victoria, ran for 15 weeks across TV, radio, print, social media and in cinemas.

We work hard to educate Victorians to recognise and avoid travelling con men, and alert communities when they are in a particular area.

Travelling con men often target vulnerable consumers and residents who speak little or no English, so the campaign media release was translated into six languages and promoted on SBS.

As part of a national consumer rights campaign launched in July 2017, we are encouraging Koori consumers to walk away from high-pressure sales pitches.

The It’s OK to Walk Away campaign aims to help Koori consumers in urban, regional and rural areas of Victoria to identify high-pressure sales tactics and understand their consumer rights.

Organisations have previously used high-pressure sales tactics to sign up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers to Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses, mobile telephone services and to sell electronics and photography packages.

It’s OK to Walk Away featured presentations, social media posts and videos about the various tactics used by salespeople, providing Koori consumers with helpful tips.

We have a dedicated telephone service for Koori consumers, offering advice, information and support.

In April 2018, we transferred some of our dispute resolution services to the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV) as part of a commitment across the Department of Justice and Regulation to ensure Victorians have the right level of service at the right time.

DSCV is now responsible for assessing and managing internal dispute matters within retirement villages and owners corporations, leaving us to focus on our compliance functions as a regulator.

To support the dispute resolution service provided by DSCV, we continue to provide lot owners, residents and managers with information and advice on their rights and responsibilities, including the steps they can take if there is a dispute.

We will also continue to educate lot owners, owners corporations, retirement village operators and managers about their legal obligations, and address any identified breaches of the law.

We worked closely with DSCV to plan, develop and test the new referral process, to ensure there was no disruption of service to the community, and that consistent and comprehensive information was provided to all stakeholders and impacted organisations.

  

Building or renovating a home is one of the biggest financial decisions Victorians will make. It is important that the protections for consumers are strong and disputes are resolved quickly.

The Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV) commenced operating on 26 April 2017. It was an outcome of significant reforms to strengthen the domestic building consumer protection framework.

DBDRV offers a free service to help builders and home owners resolve their disputes without the cost and time often associated with courts and tribunals.

In its first year of operation, DBDRV received almost 6,500 applications, far exceeding initial expectations.

In the same timeframe, we answered over 28,000 calls on the building information line, assisting callers with information about how to resolve a building matter, the DBDRV service and how to lodge applications.

The Victorian Government also established the Domestic Building Legal Service (DBLS), a no-cost legal advice service for eligible Victorian domestic building consumers in special need of assistance.

The DBLS commenced in July 2017, and is delivered by not-for-profit community legal service Justice Connect, with the assistance of pro bono legal practitioners.