Case Studies

The case studies below are real life examples of the type of complaints we receive and the actions we've taken to help resolve the complaint.

Centrelink

Immigration

Case study 1

On 22 January 2018, the Department of Home Affairs introduced a new visitor management policy which changed the conditions of entry and entry application process for personal and professional visitors to immigration detention facilities.

The Office monitored the implementation of the policy through our complaints, our inspections of immigration detention facilities and our engagement with stakeholders. In October 2018 we provided an issues paper to the department, outlining our concerns about the policy and making 13 recommendations.

We recommended that the ABF clarify elements of the policy on its website, the application information sheet and the Visiting Multiple Detainees request form; clarify which visitor application process applies to volunteer and community groups and which applies to individuals; and explain how the policy changes would affect these groups on both its website and the Visiting Multiple Detainees request form. The department accepted ten of our recommendations.

In April 2019, the department advised us that the ABF website has been updated to clarify and differentiate the process applying to volunteer and community groups and the process applying to individual visitors. The Office has not received any further complaints raising issues about the introduction of the policy.

Case study 2

A complainant approached our Office as they had recently applied to Centrelink for childcare subsidies and was advised that before their application could be approved, they needed the Department of Home Affairs to update their travel record. The complainant had travelled overseas with their parents when they were a child but their return to Australia was not recorded by the department. The complainant contacted the department, provided exit and re-entry dates and requested that their record be updated.

After some time, they raised a formal complaint with the department about the delay in updating their travel record. As the complainant could not access the subsidy from Centrelink, they were in debt with the childcare centre and their child was no longer able to attend. A response was received from the department which advised the record could not be updated because there was no record of their return to Australia.

The complainant contacted our Office. The Office considered that there was more the department could do to assist and transferred the complaint to the department. On the same day it received the transferred complaint, the department located and corrected the travel record and advised both the complainant and Centrelink of the correction.

For more information about how the Immigration Ombudsman can help you click here.

Law Enforcement

AFP Safe Place was established to provide support to people who have suffered sexual harassment or bullying and to give them the reassurance that their concerns will be treated with respect, sensitivity and confidentiality. Safe Place is available to former and current AFP members, who are encouraged to bring matters to the team, even if they have already reported previously through existing processes. In 2017–18, we met with representatives from Safe Place to discuss their management of complaints under Part V of the AFP Act.

In 2018–19, we made recommendations to the AFP regarding Safe Place and the handling of complaints. These recommendations included:

  • The AFP update its policies and procedures to provide both written and verbal information to complainants to ensure they are provided with consistent information and the integrity of the investigation and decision process can be easily established and reviewed.
  • The AFP ensure investigators are aware of appropriate notification practices and procedures.

The AFP undertook to implement our recommendations to improve its policies and procedures in relation to Safe Place. The Office will continue to monitor this program through our reviews under Part V of the AFP Act, regular liaison with the AFP and any complaints we may receive.

Our 2017–18 reviews found the AFP's administration of Part V of the Act to be comprehensive and adequate with matters investigated appropriately. However, we identified some deficiencies in how the AFP responds to practices issues and made several suggestions to improve record-keeping processes, and adherence to legislative requirements and standard operating procedures.

For more information about how the Law Enforcement Ombudsman can help you with the AFP click here.

National Disability Insurance Agency

Case Study 1

A complainant requested a review of the NDIA's decision to decline the request for specialist funding for a wheelchair (in their child's plan). The NDIA undertook the review and confirmed its original decision. Although the NDIA verbally told the complainant the decision, it did not send them or their child a written decision. Without a written decision, they were unable to seek merits review of the NDIA's decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

They complained to our Office. We contacted the NDIA and it sent a decision letter to their child. They were then able to exercise their rights to review the NDIA's decision.

Case Study 2

A person contacted our Office due to delays in receiving assistive technology in their NDIS plan. They told us they were in hospital and were waiting for the NDIA to approve funds so they could obtain customised mobility equipment, and have modifications made to their home. Once the modifications were made they could leave hospital and go home. They told us that they had followed all the steps including providing quotes and assessments, and despite calling the NDIA multiple times had waited five months for a decision before approaching our Office.

We investigated their complaint. We noted that the request had been handled by multiple teams and there had been lengthy delays in both processing the request and responding to the participant's attempts in following up the NDIA's decision.

During the investigation, the NDIA acknowledged the complexity of this participant's circumstances. It took action to provide a support coordinator to assist the participant in engaging with the hospital and in obtaining the mobility equipment and the required modifications, so the participant could leave hospital and return home.

For more information about how the Ombudsman can help you with the NDIS click here.

Overseas Students

Case study 1

An international student approached us after applying for a refund from their education provider, and not receiving a response for four months. After contacting the student’s provider we were told that they had no record of ever receiving fee payments from the student, and that they had informed the student of this. The provider and student gave us records of their correspondence regarding the refund request.

The correspondence revealed that the student was convinced they had paid their tuition fees as they had been provided with a Confirmation of Enrolment (CoE). However, the provider insisted they had no record of receiving a payment. The student had provided receipts showing international transfer numbers, however the provider was adamant that no such transfer had been made to their accounts. On further investigation, the provider told us that some of their bank account details had been incorrectly stated on the transfer receipt, and that it appeared a different bank had been the recipient of the funds.

The student made enquiries with their bank, and the bank confirmed that although a different bank had been the initial recipient of the funds, the transfer had been rerouted to the correct account. The provider then informed us that the student’s CoE had been issued on the basis of the transfer receipt, without confirming that the funds had actually been received, and they insisted that the payment had never been deposited.

We compared the transfer confirmation from the student and the provider’s banking records for the period and were able to identify a payment that matched a reference number. This confirmed that a payment had been received from the student. However, as the payment had been routed through two banks, the first bank had deducted an international transfer fee resulting in the amount deposited in the provider’s account being slightly less than expected. This meant that the provider had been looking for a specific amount that was not evident in their accounts for that time period due to the discrepancy caused by the deduction of the bank fee.

Once we gave this information to the provider it decided to refund the student.

This case demonstrates how applying good complaint handling practices can avoid drawn-out disputes and improve experiences for students and education providers. Three elements of better practice complaint handling as identified in our guide would have assisted in resolving the complaint much earlier:

  • Impartiality: in this case, the provider appears to have made a judgement too early after not finding a matching amount in their accounts. Continuing to search, for example by the student’s reference number, would have identified the payment.
  • Investigation: it was only during the external appeal to our Office that the provider identified that their bank details were incorrectly recorded on the student’s receipt. It appears that the education provider did not consider all the information that the student provided.
  • Response: if the provider had given the student a complete response, the student would have had the information they needed to query where the money was sent.

Case study 2

In July 2019, Kiet*, a student from Thailand, contacted the Office to complain that his provider had denied his application for release to transfer to another provider.

Kiet had heard that the Bachelor level course he was studying was not held in high regard, and others who had completed similar studies told him they were struggling to secure employment. Kiet applied for and was offered a place with a different provider at a Certificate III level, and wanted to be released from his current provider to transfer to this course.

The provider advised Kiet that his student visa was granted for him to study a Bachelor level course, and Kiet had also not demonstrated compelling or compassionate grounds for a transfer, so they decided not to release him from the course. The provider gave Kiet information on their appeals process and how to complain to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Kiet appealed the provider’s decision, but was unsuccessful, so he approached the Commonwealth Ombudsman to complain.

The provider was able to demonstrate that as part of its admission requirements, Kiet had submitted a Statement of Purpose saying that he had researched a number of courses and providers in several countries, and had decided on the course in which he eventually enrolled. Kiet’s student visa conditions made it mandatory for him to study at Higher Education level, and if he transferred to a lower level of study he would be in breach of his visa conditions. The provider had thorough policies and procedures in place to support its decision, and responded to Kiet in line with these documents. The provider further stated as part of its response to the Office that Kiet was passing the course he had originally enrolled in, and that it was evident that Kiet could succeed at the Bachelor level course.

As a result of our investigation we concluded that the provider had acted in accordance with the National Code, and its own policies and procedures and therefore met its obligations.

Case study 3

We received a complaint from a law firm on behalf of Mei* , an international student who had passed away while studying in Australia. The law firm had tried to obtain a refund of fees from Mei’s provider to be paid to Mei’s estate. We had previously attempted to facilitate contact between the law firm and the provider through our assisted referral process, however the law firm advised us that it had not received contact from the provider within a reasonable timeframe.

In response to our investigation questions, the provider explained that it had not responded to the law firm, as it had been seeking independent legal advice about its obligations following the death of a student, and had not yet finalised its decision.

After assessing the circumstances of the complaint, we found that the provider should issue a refund to Mei’s estate under the student default provisions of s 47A (1)(b) of the ESOS Act. We wrote to the provider with our proposed decision. Following some discussion about the calculation of the proposed refund amount, the refund was paid to Mei's estate.

This case highlights the need for timely responses to complaints, even if the complaint cannot be resolved immediately. An update to the law firm advising that the provider was seeking independent legal advice is a reasonable expectation in the circumstances, and may have prevented the need for the Ombudsman to become involved in this dispute.

Case study 4

Preeti from India* had finished her VET studies in Australia and decided to continue studying in Australia with a private higher education provider. She obtained her CoE to undertake Bachelor-level studies and applied for a new student visa. She commenced classes, and a few weeks later received advice from the Department of Home Affairs advising that her application for a student visa had been refused.

Preeti appealed this decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). While Preeti awaited the decision of the AAT, she maintained her attendance and received good grades. Her education provider allowed her to remain enrolled, attend classes and exams and submit assessments. However, the provider cancelled her CoE, stating that as she was not on a student visa they were not required to maintain an active CoE for Preeti to continue her studies.

Preeti was concerned that without a valid CoE, her appeal to the AAT would be decided against her. She had been asked to provide information in support of her case by the AAT, so she knew that they would consider her appeal soon. Preeti appealed the provider’s decision internally and then made a complaint to our Office.

Preeti’s education provider explained that they would only reinstate Preeti’s CoE if she responded to the concerns raised in her student visa refusal letter and she had failed to cooperate with this request. Her education provider further explained that they were reluctant to issue a CoE for her as this might impact on their Tuition Protection Service rating.

After considering the information provided by Preeti and her education provider, our Office formed a view that Preeti met the definition of an ‘accepted student’ in section 5 of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act), because Preeti had a significant portion of her studies remaining and would need a student visa to complete them.

Further, section 19 of the ESOS Act and section 9 of the ESOS Regulations 2019 required Preeti’s education provider to record a CoE for Preeti in the Provider Registration and International Student Management System, (PRISMS). The PRISMS Provider User Guide also supported this requirement, suggesting that an international student on a bridging visa with study rights cannot study without a current CoE.

The provider accepted our view and issued a CoE for Preeti.

*Identifying details have been changed for privacy reasons

Oversight of government agencies

Case Study: Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)

A complainant complained to our Office that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had deregistered their company because they had not paid the annual review fees. They told us that even though they had advised ASIC of a change to the address for their company, the annual company review fee invoices were sent to the old address and as a result, they had not paid the annual fee. Once they became aware of the error, they paid the annual review fee. They complained it was not fair to have to pay fees for late payment of the annual review fee.

We conducted preliminary inquiries and asked ASIC for information on how it processed the request to change the company address. After receiving our preliminary inquiry, ASIC realised it had not properly processed the change of address for the company. It reassessed its handling of the matter and agreed to reinstate the company's registration and waive the fees relating to the late payment of the annual company review fee.

Case Study: Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO)

A complainant was a participant in the jobactive program and was referred to a position as a labourer by an employment service provider.They found out they were being underpaid, and their provider referred them to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) who advised they had a right to leave the position and assisted them in doing so.

The complainant told their provider they had left, but the provider lodged a non-compliance report to Centrelink, resulting in their Newstart Allowance being suspended. When they complained to the National Customer Service Line (NCSL), they were told to contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.

They then made a complaint to our Office. Our investigation identified errors on the part of the provider and found that on the basis of the information that was provided in the complaint to the NCSL, it would have been appropriate for the NCSL to refer the complaint to the provider for further investigation. The complainant's payment was restored, with back pay, and their record corrected.

Postal Industry

Case Study 1

A complainant sent a box containing 12 bottles of wine overseas through Australia Post and purchased Extra Cover in case of damage. Some of the bottles were damaged in transit and a damage claim was made. Australia Post rejected the Extra Cover claim on the basis that the article was inadequately packaged and did not have a wine certificate (a requirement when sending more than 2 bottles).

The complainant complained on the basis that the Post Office knew at time of lodgment that the box contained wine and how it was packaged. Australia Post did not mention anything about a wine certificate and sold them Extra Cover. Australia Post did not change its decision so the complainant approached our Office.

We transferred the dispute back to Australia Post to respond to the complainant's concerns. Australia Post acknowledged that it should have identified that the article should not have been accepted for carriage as only two bottles of wine can be posted, additional amounts require a wine certificate and alcohol deliveries were also on the prohibited list for the country the box was addressed to.

Australia Post offered the complainant compensation to cover the damage and postage.

Case Study 2

Amy* sent a piece of sporting memorabilia back to Australia whilst on holidays overseas. When it arrived, the
item had been damaged.

Amy contacted the domestic postal operator to see if they would compensate her for the damage. The postal
operator conducted an assessment of the damage and concluded that the item had not been adequately
packaged for transit. Amy made enquiries with the originating international postal operator who explained
that in their view, the item had been adequately packaged.

Dissatisfied with the response from the domestic postal operator Amy contacted our Office for assistance. We
made enquiries with the postal operator and confirmed that the originating international postal operator had
packaged the sporting memorabilia properly and she should have expected the item to arrive undamaged.
After reconsidering the matter, the postal operator recognised it was at fault for the damage to the sporting
memorabilia.

Postal operators, like any business operating under the Australian Consumer Law, are required to guarantee
that goods and services are of an acceptable quality and that services in particular are performed with due
care and skill. In this case, there was reliable information showing that the postal operator was responsible for
the damage to Amy’s sporting memorabilia.
The postal provider agreed to pay Amy the declared value of her damaged sporting memorabilia.

Case Study 3

Jenny* sent a parcel full of sentimental items back to Australia while on holiday overseas. Jenny also had a mail hold in place for any mail and parcels that were sent to her residential address. The mail hold failed and a collection card was left advising the parcel was awaiting collection at her local Post Office. Once she returned from overseas she attended the Post Office and was advised that the parcel had been returned to sender as no one had collected it.
Jenny complained to the postal operator but was dissatisfied with their response so she contacted our Office. We made enquiries of the postal operator who reviewed the information it had on record and acknowledged the mail hold failed. They contacted the overseas postal operator who eventually located the parcel and sent it back it to her. Unfortunately, it was lost on the way to Australia this time.
The Australian postal operator acknowledged that the parcel would not have been lost in the first place if Jenny’s mail hold had not failed and so it agreed to pay compensation for the loss of the parcel and a postage refund.

Case Study 4

Jose* purchased a musical instrument online and tracking showed that the parcel was delivered, however he had not received it.
Jose contacted the postal operator to see if the parcel could be located or if he would be eligible for compensation if the item had been lost. They investigated Jose’s complaint, but reiterated that it had been delivered, specifically into his letterbox. Jose also contacted the musical retailer but they were not willing to assist him because it was shown as delivered.
Jose remained dissatisfied with the operator’s response and contacted our Office for assistance. He advised us that in his view, it was impossible for the package containing the musical instrument to fit into his letterbox.
We contacted the postal operator who reviewed Jose’s case. They advised that their records showed that the package was delivered and the delivery officer could recall placing it into the letterbox. They also confirmed the package could fit into the letterbox by visiting Jose’s premises and measuring the letterbox against the package dimensions provided by the sender.
Our Office considered that the postal operator had taken appropriate steps to investigate Jose’s complaint and had provided a reasonable response to him. We finalised Jose’s complaint and explained the reasons we thought the postal operator’s response was acceptable. We also advised him that he should see if there was any compensation for his loss of the musical instrument available from the online seller or payment handler.

*Names and some details have been changed for privacy reasons.

For more information about how  the Postal Industry Ombudsman can help you click here.

Private Health Insurance

Case Study 1

A complainant was told by a medical specialist that their child needed elective surgery. They had purchased hospital cover from a health insurer less than 12 months earlier. They called the insurer to check whether the costs associated with the surgery would be covered. Based on the verbal information from the insurer, they booked the surgery for their child.

The complainant used family's savings to pay for the procedure and made a claim with the insurer for reimbursement. Two weeks later, the insurer told them that the claim could not be paid. They explained that an independent medical advisor had assessed their child's condition to be pre-existing.

The complainant came to our Office for help. We contacted the insurer and asked for copies of all communication with the complainant. We found that the insurer had told them not to worry about the pre-existing conditions (PEC) process because the surgery was a 'standard procedure'. It was only three months before the end of the PEC waiting period when they said this to the complainant.

The PEC process requires an assessment by a medical practitioner appointed by the health insurer. Insurers can impose a 12 month waiting period on benefits for hospital treatment for a PEC. If the insurer had properly explained the PEC process and how pre-existing conditions are defined, the complainant may have delayed the surgery until the waiting period was finished. We asked the insurer to consider this issue and they agreed to pay the hospital costs because they had not given adequate information.

Case Study 2

A complainant started a health insurance policy in June. A government rebate was automatically applied to their policy, reducing their premium. The insurer asked them to complete a rebate form to confirm the reduced premium. The complainant thought they had returned the form, and did not hear anything more about it.

In late October, the insurer again asked the complainant to complete a rebate form. The complainant thought they returned the form a second time. Ten days later the insurer wrote to the complainant asking for the rebate form or else their premium would increase from their start date. Six days later, the insurer wrote to the complainant, saying that their premium had increased from June because their rebate had been removed. The letter went on to explain that they were now in arrears.

The complainant could not afford to pay the arrears so they cancelled their direct debit payments and started a new policy in late December with a different insurer. The second insurer applied new waiting periods because the complainant's first policy had ended more than two months earlier.

The complainant was not in good health and was receiving medical treatment. They contacted our Office and asked us to help. The first insurer gave us their records of communication with and admitted they should not have allowed five months to pass before following up on the rebate form. The first insurer offered to accept 50 per cent of the arrears and to issue a new end date certificate so the second insurer could remove the waiting periods on the complainant's new policy.

For more information about how the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman (PHIO) can help you click here.

VET FEE-HELP

Case Study 1

When doing their tax return, a complainant found they have a VET FEE-HELP (VFH) debt from 2015 for a diploma level course with an education provider. The provider closed and cannot be contacted to make a complaint.

The complainant lodged an online complaint with our Office about their VFH debt. They told us that they enrolled in a diploma level course in 2015. They explained to us that the provider told them the course is government-funded and they would only pay for the units of study they completed. The complainant thinks they should not have to pay back the VFH debt because they didn’t complete any units of study.

We investigated the complaint based on the information the complainant gave us, along with information about the provider, data from the Australian Skills and Quality Authority and unit completion status data from the student records. We found it reasonably likely the complainant was misled or deceived by the provider when they enrolled in the diploma level course. We recommended to the Department of Education Skills and Employment that their VFH debt should be cancelled. The Department considered our recommendation and agreed. They contacted the complainant. The complainant did not have to pay back any of the VFH debt.

Case Study 2

After assessing a number of complaints against a specific education provider about VET FEE-HELP (VFH) debts, we found a trend in the issues we were coming across.

We conducted an in-depth analysis of a sample of complaints for that provider. We found that a large number of complainants had similar experiences where this provider, or its agent, engaged in inappropriate conduct when marketing their courses. People were influenced to enrol with the provider on the basis of inappropriate conduct.

We provided our analysis to the Department, which helped them to apply a Secretary Initiated Action to cancel all VFH debts for students who meet the criteria identified in our trend analysis. This assisted a large number of people who had a VFH debt through this provider, including many who had not yet made a complaint to our Office.