Information for providers

Frequently Asked Questions – providers

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the VET Student Loans Ombudsman which handles complaints about VET Student Loans and VET FEE-HELP.

You can contact us on our website or by calling 1300 362 072.

Definitions:

Provider – a VET Student Loans or VET FEE-HELP approved provider. Also known as a VET Loan Assistance approved provider, or VET Loan Assistance approved Registered Training Organisation (RTO).

Student – people who are studying, have studied, and people who may have never studied, yet have been signed up for a course with a VET loan.

What is an Ombudsman?

An Ombudsman is a person who helps people who have problems with Australian businesses and government agencies. There are different Ombudsman for different businesses and parts of government.

If the Ombudsman finds that a business or government agency has done the wrong thing or treated someone unfairly, they can recommend a remedy. That remedy might be, an apology, better information, a new decision, or a refund.

How can the Commonwealth Ombudsman help providers?

The Commonwealth Ombudsman (Ombudsman) can investigate complaints VET FEE-HELP or VET Student Loan approved providers may have about Commonwealth agencies. This is a free, independent and impartial service.

What does the VET Student Loans Ombudsman (VSLO) do?

The VSLO was created to manage and investigate complaints regarding both the VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans programs.

The VSLO will focus on investigating disputes between students and providers.

The VSLO is an industry-focused ombudsman responsible for:

  • investigating complaints, making recommendations, and reporting on providers delivering education and training services under both VET Student Loans and VET FEE-HELP
  • providing best practice complaints handling advice and training to providers
  • reporting on trends and issues identified in the vocational education and training sector, and
  • working with industry to develop a Code of Practice.

If required, the VSLO has powers to compel providers to attend meetings. We can also make recommendations to other Commonwealth agencies in relation to systemic issues about providers’ practices uncovered through VSLO investigations.

Do I have to use the VET Student Loans Ombudsman?

Providers can choose to take part in the development of the industry Code of Practice with the VSLO, as well as workshops on best practice complaints handling.

In educating students on their complaints handling process, the VSLO suggests VET Student Loans approved providers also supply students with information on accessing the VSLO should they not be satisfied with the provider’s decision or response.

The VSLO can supply providers with information flyers and links to videos. Please contact VET.studentloans@ombudsman.gov.au if you would like to receive this information.

If required, it is within the powers of the VSLO, as described in the Education and Other Legislation Amendment Act (2017), for the VSLO to compel providers to meetings. We can also make recommendations to other Commonwealth agencies in relation to systemic issues about providers’ practices uncovered through VSLO investigations.

What is a VET Student Loans provider?

All private providers who wish to become VET Student Loans approved providers are required to apply to the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training to deliver courses under VET Student Loans. To find out more about this, go to the Department of Education and Training’s website.

Who is a VET Student Loans or VET FEE-HELP Student?

It is important to note that ’student’ includes people who are studying, have studied, and people who may have never studied, yet have been signed up for a diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate or graduate diploma course.

The VET FEE-HELP or VET Student Loans students are people studying a diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate or graduate diploma course with an approved VET Loan Assistance provider (provider) and who have accessed the VET FEE-HELP or the VET Student Loans programs to cover the costs of their studies.

VET FEE-HELP or VET Student Loans students may have a VET Loan Assistance debt they should not have. In these circumstances people can call the VSLO and we will see if they have a debt, from this point we will explain what process the person needs to undertake and refer to other agencies or bodies where necessary.

What can VET Student Loans and VET FEE-HELP students complain about?

A student may complain about their provider if they believe they may not have been treated fairly or have made an incorrect decision.

Can the VET Student Loans Ombudsman investigate without receiving a complaint?

Yes. The Ombudsman can investigate issues of concern which come to their attention, regardless of whether an individual has made a specific complaint on that issue.

For example, the VSLO may conduct an investigation on his or her own initiative in relation to VET loan assistance, and compliance by VET student loan scheme providers with the VET Student Loans Act 2016, the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and any legislative instruments under either of those Acts. These investigations often arise from insights gained through individual complaints and other oversight responsibilities of the VSLO.

How does the VET Student Loans Ombudsman investigate?

The VET Student Loans Ombudsman (VSLO) investigates in an independent and impartial way. The VSLO does not advocate for the student or the provider. Complaint investigations are conducted in private and are usually informal.

When a complaint is received, an assessment is first made about whether it is an issue that the Ombudsman can investigate. In some cases, the VSLO may decide not to investigate a complaint. This might be because:

  • the student has not complained to the education provider first, or
  • another organisation is better able to deal with the complaint.

If a decision is made to investigate a complaint, the VSLO will ask the provider about the problem. The VSLO may request relevant documents, or information such as student records from the provider.

The VSLO can use formal powers to compel providers to attend meetings. The VSLO can also make recommendations to other Commonwealth agencies in relation to systemic issues about provider practices uncovered through VSLO investigations.

What happens at the end of an investigation?

At the end of an investigation the VSLO may conclude that the provider has not acted unreasonably, and will advise the student and the provider of this decision.

In other cases, the VSLO may conclude that the provider failed to take appropriate action or the action appears to have been:

  • contrary to law
  • unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory, or
  • otherwise, in all the circumstances, wrong.

Where this happens, the VSLO may recommend that a provider remedy the problem, for example by:

  • apologising to the student
  • changing or reconsidering their decision
  • providing better information to the student, or
  • improving their policies or procedures.

Providers are given an opportunity to comment on any recommendations made by the VSLO.

In all investigation cases, we will keep the provider and the student updated on the progress of the investigation.

Are providers legally obliged to act on the VET Student Loans Ombudsman’s recommendations?

The VSLO cannot override a provider’s decision, or compel a provider to implement the VSLO’s recommendations.

In the event a provider does not act on the VSLO’s recommendation, the VSLO can report this to the Minister for Education and Training, the Secretary of the Department of Education and Training or disclose this information to other bodies. In this situation, the VSLO will offer the provider the opportunity to comment on any information the VSLO will be contacting the other body about.

Are results of the VET Student Loans Ombudsman investigations made public?

Results of individual complaint and external appeal investigations are not generally made public.

The VSLO may publish quarterly and annual reports which will include information such as:

  • numbers and types of complaints received by the VSLO;
  • complaint trends; and
  • numbers of complaints transferred to other complaint bodies.

The VSLO will, to the best of their ability, remove individual names from, and abridge such reports, in order to limit the disclosure of personal information.

Can the VET Student Loans Ombudsman investigate matters that pre-date July 1, 2017?

Yes. The VSLO can investigate complaints about the actions or decisions of a provider that occurred before the VSLO function commenced on 1 July 2017.