The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has given a temporary nine-day extension for complaint responses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Financial firms will now have 30 days to respond when the AFCA notifies them that a complaint has been lodged.
The AFCA announced that the extension would be effective immediately and would apply to all complaints, including those relating to financial difficulty.
It said it would also provide as standard, a flat 21-day timeframe to provide an initial response, once the dispute reached the case management stage.
AFCA chief executive and chief ombudsman, David Locke, said the extension ensured all parties involved had sufficient time to work together to resolve the complaint.
“We have worked with ASIC to get an extension to the time financial firms have to respond to complaints that have already been through internal dispute resolution processes. Financial firms now have 30 days to respond, up from 21 days,” he said.
“This extension allows financial firms more time to resolve disputes with their customers, without the need to come to AFCA for an external dispute resolution service.
“This recognises the pressure some parts of the financial services industry are under, with unprecedented levels of customer queries and financial hardship requests. It also gives consumers more realistic expectations about when they will get a response.”
The AFCA said it looked to keep the extension in place for up to six months and would then be reviewed and adjusted as appropriate.
“Where the parties are unable to resolve complaints by themselves, the extension provides more time to do things like find the documentation required by AFCA,” Locke said.
“From a consumer perspective, it is important to note that if a financial difficulty case has been brought to AFCA, then in most cases, no enforcement action can be taken while the matter is with us.”