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Impacts of pandemic, complaint trends and ‘love scams’: Ombudsman talks to Vic financial counsellors

In her first official speaking event since the pandemic in March 2020, Ombudsman Judi Jones spoke to Victorian Financial Counsellors about the about the trends in complaints over the pandemic period, and specifically, the financial impact on consumers.

Judi detailed how, due to the shutdown of overseas call centres, many telcos struggled to respond to their customers in the early stages of the pandemic, and this was the source of many financial issues for consumers. In this period, the TIO saw a 1500% year-on-year increase in consumers unable to contact their telco about an internet issue.

Judi noted that phone and internet consumers were unable to report incorrect charges on bills during the pandemic. This was problematic when the unchallenged bill was then deducted from the consumer’s bank account. She also highlighted complaints from consumers who said they received unexpectedly high bills with one-off fees and charges which they couldn’t afford to pay, for example cancellation fees or technician fees. Many of these debt-related complaints began when consumers couldn’t contact their telco. 

Judi also highlighted the TIOs work investigating systemic issues such as scamming problems. She also spoke of a consumer who had been tricked by a ‘love’ scam, and left $7000 out of pocket.

Joining Judi on the panel was Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria’s Cynthia Gebert and Australian Financial Complaints Authority’s David Locke, who spoke about the pandemic’s impacts on their respective industries.

The talk was a great opportunity for financial counsellors to ask questions to the leaders of the organisations which often handle complaints for their clients.

Judi found the opportunity to speak at this event both exciting and somewhat daunting. “These events are so important in promoting the work everyone at the TIO is doing. It was novel, and initially a little disconcerting, to be in a room with 250 people.  But it is good to be out and about, and it’s a feeling I’ve missed.”

The FCVIC conference is an annual event, bringing together financial counsellors and students of financial counselling diplomas in Victoria to discuss financial hardship issues, and how best to use the services available to them and their clients. The conference also offered many opportunities to connect with financial counsellors and have meaningful conversations about TIO services.