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AFCA work aims for clarity around key fairness role

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The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has completed a program of work to provide greater clarity around its fairness responsibilities while providing tools to assist all parties involved in the disputes process.

AFCA last week published a report concluding the Fairness Jurisdiction Project, which has developed resources for staff, financial sector industry members, and complainants.

The organisation, introduced in 2018, is required by legislation to operate in a way that is accessible, independent, fair, accountable, efficient and effective.

“We recognise that fairness as a concept means different things to different people,” Deputy Chief Ombudsman June Smith says in the report.

“AFCA’s project did not set out to define what is fair or unfair in the provision of financial services or create new standards of conduct for financial services firms. AFCA’s role is to apply the law, codes of practice and regulatory guidance in place at the time the conduct complained about occurred.”

Work has included development of a decision template to clearly explain how AFCA has applied the fairness tests in complaint handling and why decisions made are fair in all the circumstances.

An apprehended bias policy ensures AFCA’s people remain impartial when working with parties to resolve complaints, while a fairness jurisdiction tool aims to ensure AFCA can discuss important issues in plain English.

Looking ahead, work will include providing greater clarity about AFCA’s role to assist parties during the process, including the accessibility of services, and clarifying its jurisdiction in relation to sophisticated investors.

Dr Smith says under its rules AFCA is required to do what is fair in all the circumstances in handling and determining complaints, including delivering a fair process and fair outcomes for all parties.

“AFCA’s jurisdiction is unique in that sense. AFCA is not a court of law,” she says.