Fair justice for Victorians going to VCAT a step closer

The Victorian and Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) should be easier and fairer for Victorians following the announcement of new funding and changes to modernise the tribunal.

“Victoria is a step closer to fair justice ” says Denise Boyd, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Consumer Action Law Centre.

As part of its response to the Access to Justice Review, the Victorian Government has accepted a number of recommendations to improve VCAT and announced:

  • $4.55 mil to modernise VCAT’s processes, including introducing automatic online registration of orders. VCAT will also share in a $1.98 million investment with courts to improve its websites and other public resources.
  • $800,000 to plan for an online dispute resolution service pilot.
  • $6.26 mil to increase alternative dispute resolution services for small claims at VCAT.

It’s clear that right now, VCAT is simply too complex, slow and intimidating for many people.

“VCAT needs to be easier for everyday Victorians to get justice. We hope this funding will mean fairer and faster outcomes for people who just want their problems fixed and to move on with their lives,” says Boyd.

An online forum will be more convenient for many Victorians who currently have to take time off work or away from caring for family to attend hearings in person. However, some Victorians do not have reliable access to the internet and many others will not be comfortable using the internet in this way.

“It is critical that there’s no disadvantage for people who are unable to use the new online system,” says Boyd.

Safe, reliable cars

With cars being one of the major issues for its legal advice service, Consumer Action Law Centre wants the Victorian Government to follow through on a Review recommendation to establish a conciliation service for car disputes, including a free technical assessment of the car.

“Cars play a major role in people’s connection with employment, family, friends and the community” says Boyd.

“Unfortunately we still see way too many people getting ripped off by car traders or stuck with unsafe or lemon cars. When they come to VCAT to try and get the problem fixed, it is often too complicated and too hard to get justice. Cars play an important a role in our lives and disputes need to be resolved quickly.”

Over 30% of the complaints received by Consumer Action Law Centre relate to motor vehicles. Issues with the VCAT process include:

  • Both VCAT members and the person complaining typically lack the required technical expertise to assess the problem with the car. This means a costly expert mechanic’s report is required, putting VCAT out of reach for too many Victorians.
  • People can go without the use of their car while waiting for a hearing, which can take 6 months or more.

The Access to Justice Review recommended that the Victorian Government fund Consumer Affairs Victoria to provide a conciliation service for motor vehicle disputes, including a free technical assessment (Recommendation 5.8).  The Government is giving further consideration to this recommendation.

The Centre says the issue of car problems in VCAT can’t be put off any longer.

Media Contact: Jonathan Brown, 0413 299 567, media@consumeraction.org.au

A research report on the experiences of people using VCAT is available here: http://consumeraction.org.au/review-tenants-consumers-experience-victorian-civil-administrative-tribunal

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