Following years of vocational educational scandals, students with debts under the beleaguered VET FEE-HELP scheme will soon have somewhere to turn to for help.
Consumer Action Law Centre (“Consumer Action”) said students were winners today as the Federal Government amended its own VET Student Loans legislation before the parliament to introduce a requirement on VET Student Loan providers to be members of an ombudsman scheme[i] to resolve disputes with their colleges and training providers.
This followed the release of a report by the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment (“the Committee”) yesterday which went even further, recommending “that the Government should be guided by the principles of ensuring that the Ombudsman is accessible to all VET students”[ii].
In order to expand the scope of the Ombudsman to all VET students, a referral of powers from the states and territories is required. In light of the disgraceful conduct of private training operators, Consumer Action expects all jurisdictions to work together to deliver this important consumer protection as a high priority.
A new ombudsman service can deliver real benefits for students and those consumers unfairly or unlawfully enrolled by training providers, including the power to investigate and require refunds, where the provider is a member.
Quotes attributable to Gerard Brody, CEO Consumer Action Law Centre:
“The creation of an Ombudsman scheme is a significant win for students, the victims of the VET scandal and the principle of access to justice. We hope that it will also help the sector improve their practices in relation to the way students are enrolled and treated.”
“Effective dispute resolution is complementary to any well-functioning market. The Ombudsman will mean that affected Australians will no longer have to rely on lawyers or the good-will of their VET provider to get a fair outcome”.
“Industry Ombudsman schemes provide consumers with access to free, fair and efficient dispute resolution with a sector focus. We would like the Government to consider other industries where these schemes could work to keep people out of expensive and lengthy civil court battles.”
[i] Referred to as an ‘approved external dispute resolution scheme’ in the amendment.
[ii] Report available via this link