Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman

The Office of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) was established in March 2016 with the commencement of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Act 2015 (Cth).

It is an independent advocate for small business and family enterprise, with legislative powers to effectively influence Australia’s lawmakers. This ensures that legislation and regulations consider the needs of small businesses.

The ombudsman provides small businesses and family enterprises with direct assistance and advice if they find themselves involved in a dispute with a client, other businesses or Australian Government agencies.

Advocacy

Reports tabled by the Minister under section 41 or section 56 of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Act 2015 (Cth)

Nil.

The Ombudsman provides quarterly updates to the Minister under section 40 of the Act.

The kinds of national strategies in relation to legislation, policies and practices that affect, or may affect, small businesses or family enterprises developed during the period

Two inquiries were launched under section 36 of the Act at the Ombudsman’s own initiative during the reporting period:

  • an inquiry into Access to justice was launched on 4 December 2017, and
  • an inquiry into Affordable capital for SME growth was launched on 4 April 2018.

The Ombudsman also supported and provided input to The Treasury in undertaking an investigation into allegations of heavy handed tactics by the ATO in dealing with small businesses. Our report to the Treasury was released separately.

As part of a working group, the Ombudsman also released the paper Workplace relations simplification for small business on 27 April 2018.

The number and subject matter of consultations to which the Ombudsman has made submissions, recommendations or other contributions during the period

Over the reporting period, the office made 66 submissions covering a broad range of topics including:

  • government procurement
  • penalty rates
  • open banking in Australia
  • the Skilling Australia Fund and temporary skilled visas
  • the Austalian Taxation Office’s approach to disclosure of tax debt information
  • competition in the Australian financial system
  • the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct
  • banking executive accountability
  • single touch payroll
  • National Broadband Network rules in respect of consumer information and service continuity
  • whistle-blower protections
  • integrity of small business capital gains tax concessions
  • gift cards
  • electronic sales suppression tools
  • private indemnity insurance, and
  • Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

The number of proposals in relation to relevant legislation, policies and practices that the Ombudsman has reviewed during the period

The Ombudsman received eight requests to review Regulation Impact Statements for feedback on the impact on small business during the period.

The kinds of action taken to promote best practice during the period

The Ombudsman launched a National Payments Transparency Register. This lists companies that pay small suppliers in 30 days or less and their performance against those terms.

Assistance

There office received 3,629 enquiries during the year.

The number of requests for assistance that resulted in one of the following for the period, broken down for each of the following:

  1. a formal request for assistance
  2. a recommendation by the Ombudsman that parties to a dispute take part in an alternative dispute resolution process
  3. the resolution of a dispute, and
  4. the resolution of a dispute through an alternative dispute resolution process recommended by the Ombudsman.

Of the 3,629 contacts, 2,993 were formal requests for assistance in accordance with the Act. Of those requests, the Ombudsman recommended 34 parties to a dispute undertake an alternative dispute resolution process.

Table 14. Resolution of disputes
Resolution Count Percentage of total
Referred to appropriate agency 814 27%
Referred to state Small Business Commissioners 772 26%
Resolved by ASBFEO direct action 103 3%
Resolved by ASBFEO with provision of information or referral to professional advice 1,208 41%
Case in progress with ASBFEO 62 2%
Referred to alternative dispute resolution 34 1%
Total 2,993 100%

Of the 34 mediations referred by ASBFEO during the period:

  • 14 matters referred to alternative dispute resolution were mediated and an agreement between the parties was reached
  • four matters referred to alternative dispute resolution did not reach agreement between the parties
  • 12 matters referred to alternative dispute resolution did not progress generally due to complainant withdrawal, and
  • four matters referred to alternative dispute resolution remain in progress and outcomes are still pending.

The number and kind of requests for assistance transferred to other agencies of the Commonwealth during the period

Of the 2,993 requests received by the office, 814 were referred to other agencies of the Commonwealth. This also includes some requests which were transferred to industry bodies and tribunals like the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The number and kind of requests for assistance transferred to other state and territory agencies during the period

The office works closely with state and territory agencies, including the small business commissioners in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Of the requests for assistance received, 772 were referred to state and territory agencies.

The number and kind of requests for assistance that the Ombudsman resolved cooperatively with other agencies of the Commonwealth, and states and territories during the period 

The Ombudsman did not enter into any formal cooperative arrangements as outlined in Section 70 of the Act during the reporting period. 

The number and kind of requests for assistance in relation to which the Ombudsman recommended an alternative dispute resolution process 

The Ombudsman recommended an alternative dispute resolution process for 34 requests for assistance, including:

  • 30 contract disputes
  • one franchise dispute, and
  • three general commercial disputes.

The number of visits to the Ombudsman’s website during the period 

Over the reporting period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, there were 86,361 visits to our website www.asbfeo.gov.au