This Statement describes how Consumer Action will collect and use your private and confidential information. Protecting your privacy and personal information is an important part of how we manage our services including the National Debt Helpline, our legal advice and representation services and our policy and campaign work.
Consumer Action has obligations, and you have rights, under Commonwealth and Victorian privacy law. Privacy laws apply when we collect, use, disclose and dispose of your personal information. Personal information includes information that identifies you or could identify you, for example, your name, address or phone number, or identifying details from your financial or legal matter.
As a legal and financial counselling practice we also have legal and ethical obligations in relation to confidentiality. Lawyers and financial counsellors must not disclose any client information that has come to them in their professional capacity and in the legitimate course of their professional employment except with your consent or in very narrow circumstances defined by law. Because a client’s instructions are given to the legal practice and not just the individual lawyer or financial counsellor, the duty is binding on all staff and volunteers at Consumer Action.
We collect personal information in connection with providing, administering, and improving our community legal and financial counselling services, and supporting our operations, including engaging personnel. With your informed consent we may collect sensitive information including about your financial affairs.
Our websites do not collect or record personal information, other than information you choose to provide, for example, through our enquiries and email fields. Email addresses and any other contact details you provide to us will not be added to a mailing list without your consent.
We will generally only use personal information about you, or disclose it to third parties (including parties assisting with mail redirection), for the purposes of providing you with advice, counselling or representation, or, if you agree, referring you to other organisations.
We will sometimes use case studies based on the experience of our clients to explain what our service does, or to convince the government or other relevant organisations that laws and/or industry practices need to change to improve consumer protection. Any case study relating to your matter will not identify you or your particular matter unless we have obtained consent from you. If you tell us that you do not want your personal information to be used for a particular purpose, we will agree to that request
We are required to provide some information to funding agencies, whose use of it is governed by their own privacy policies, and these include procedures to ensure that small cohort reporting does not identify individuals. We do not provide funding agencies identifying information such as your name or address.
We may use information you have provided us to evaluate the effectiveness of our service. This includes file review and risk management purposes, including review by other community legal centres. We may also seek your consent for us or a third party to contact you to participate in research or other evaluation activities. You do not need to give your consent to this and we will provide you with the same services whether or not you provide such consent.
With your consent, we will hold your personal information for the purpose of informing you about consumer campaigns that may be of interest to you.
We may also use or disclose personal information to third parties if required to do so by law; in emergencies where life, health or safety of any person is at risk.
All of the personal information we hold is hosted on servers located in Australia, but in the course of the provision of some internet services including web-analytics, some information may be held or processed outside Australia, most likely including Singapore and the USA. Otherwise, we will not disclose personal information to overseas recipients other than at your express request.
Consumer Action Law Centre and CARE Financial Counselling are two distinct organisations that both respond to online chat enquiries through the www.ndh.org.au website run by Financial Counselling Australia (FCA), as from 1 July 2022. When you use online chat, your information is collected and used by:
- our service in accordance with this privacy:
Consumer Action and CARE are separate entities based in different states, and each service’s internal databases are inaccessible to the other service.
Access to shared client materials occurs through the Freshchat interface only, in the form of:
- the initial incoming chat message which then gets assigned to one service as staff become available;
- chats are marked closed at the end of the conversation, or at the end of a person’s shift if the chatter has not responded.
Both services have a strict policies for managing privacy and conflicts. Staff are not permitted to access the other service’s chat histories as stored in Freshchat. Financial Counsellors will identify themselves in their initial greeting message as a financial counsellor working with Consumer Action or CARE for new and reopened chats.
Chat histories may be seen by both services in very limited situations:
- Where a chat user reopens chat, their chat history is automatically directed by Freshchat to whichever service/s are responding to chat at the time can respond; This means any financial counsellor, from either service, can continue on from your previous chat without asking you to re-tell your story.
- On request by a chatter, if they ask to be directed to a particular service – chats may be transferred with the full chat history;
- Access by managers for quality assurance and ensuring we are meeting our ethical and professional obligations; or
- With express permission by the chat user.
Consumer Action and CARE each will keep the personal information obtained by them through Freshchat confidential, including from the other service, except in the limited situations above. This information barrier is intended to allow us to help as many people as possible. CARE may assist one person, and Consumer Action may assist the other person – in the same matter. The staff member assisting you can only help you if they have no actual knowledge of the other party’s situation. All your information is kept confidentially by the service that you interact with, and not shared with the other. Consumer Action and CARE do not access each other’s Freshchat histories due to the information barrier in place, except in the situations noted above.
Consumer Action and CARE will not act where an actual conflict is identified. Each service cannot provide assistance to two parties who have different interests in relation to the same problem or dispute. Sometimes we will not be able to assist either party. In such cases we will refer you to another service if available. We cannot tell you that we have assisted, or are assisting, another person in your dispute and there are other reasons we may need to refer you to another service, including for example, staff resources at a particular time or the availability of another service with particular expertise.
Chat services are short, once-off information, advice or minor assistance services which are limited in time and scope. Ongoing casework is not provided through the chat interface. If you need more substantial or longer-term assistance, one of our services may assist you outside the Freshchat platform. You may continue to interact with us using an electronic interface (rather than by phone or in person) if that is your preference.
If you have safety concerns, you can click the ‘Delete Chat’ button on chat so your previous messages can’t be seen on your computer or phone. Our financial counsellor can still see the deleted chat and respond to your enquiry, so please tell us how we can get back to you safely. We cannot see if you have clicked the ‘Delete Chat’ button.
We take all reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is accurate, complete, up to date and relevant, and generally ‘fit for purpose’. You can assist us by notifying us promptly of any changes or relevant new information. You have the right under privacy law to see any personal information that Consumer Action holds about you, and to seek correction if you believe it is wrong. However, for legal professional reasons, including checking conflicts of interest and insurance requirements, we will not be able to delete your name and contact details from our legal and financial counselling service database (see, also, ‘Keeping your information’ below).
We will take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information held by Consumer Action is protected from misuse, loss and from unauthorised access, modification and disclosure. You should however be aware that there are risks involved in transmitting personal information over the internet or by email. We only use external information storage partners when we are confident they will protect the information as well as we can.
Please tell us if you have any privacy or safety concerns about us leaving a message for you, especially if our message mentions Consumer Action, National Debt Helpline (our financial counselling service), or your legal or financial problem. In particular, please tell us if you have any concerns about us leaving that type of message:
- as a voice message on your land-line or mobile phone;
- by text to your mobile phone;
- with someone who answers your phone; or
- by email.
This might be a risk for you, for example, if you have a gambling problem or financial difficulty that you do not want other household members to know about, or if you are experiencing family violence, or because your messages are not secure.
We take reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is protected and only disclosed to persons who have a need to know.
We use security measures including log-in and password protection, and we are rolling out multi-factor authentication, we use protections such as anti-virus software and encryption. We also ensure that any external service suppliers we engage who may hold your personal information (for instance, telecommunication service providers, website and IT providers) have security systems in place to protect your personal information.
Multi-factor authentication is used on the online chat platform by both our staff and CARE staff.
We will take reasonable steps to de-identify or destroy personal information once it is no longer needed. In practice, personal information contained in our hard copy files is kept for at least 65 days before we destroy it, unless you ask us to keep it. Personal information kept in our electronic files will be kept for at least seven years after we close your file, and may be kept for longer. Where relevant, personal information collected by our third party mailroom will be kept by that party until directed by us to destroy it. We will return any of your original documents in our possession when your matter is finalised.
If you have any concerns about our use of your information, please discuss these with us. We will always try to resolve them with you. You can contact us, make a complaint, or seek more details about this site or our privacy policies by:
- Phoning (03) 9670 5088; or
- Emailing via online feedback form
- Writing to:
Consumer Action Law Centre
Level 6, 179 Queen Street
MELBOURNE VIC 3000
You have the right to complain about alleged breaches of privacy to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) See www.oaic.gov.au or call 1300 363 992.