Knowing who to turn to when you need help resolving a problem with your super fund or financial adviser can be tricky. There are a number of organisations that can help, but they all have different areas of responsibility and can help you in different ways.
To help you understand what assistance is available, SuperGuide has compiled a guide to the main dispute resolution schemes you can contact about the various super and advice complaints you may have in relation to your retirement savings.
How to make a complaint
Step 1: Contact the super fund or financial adviser about your complaint
If you’re upset with your super fund or financial adviser, talking to them is usually the last thing you want to do. However, telling them you’re unhappy is your best first move, as they may be able to solve the problem immediately. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) MoneySmart website has a set of sample complaint letters that you can use.
To complain effectively, you need to follow the right steps. Financial services providers, such as super funds and financial advisers, must have a clear process in place for handling complaints:
- Super funds. The procedure for complaints is usually outlined on the super fund’s website and in the product disclosure statement you received when you first joined. You can also refer to SuperGuide article How to make a complaint about your super fund.
- Financial advisers. All Australian Financial Services (AFS) licensees must have an in-house process for handling complaints about their products and services, including a process for dealing with complaints about how they have handled a dispute. For more information on the process you need to follow when making an adviser complaint, contact your financial adviser directly, or their AFS licensee (usually one of the major banks or insurance companies).
Note: Even if you are reluctant to contact your super fund or financial adviser, most external dispute resolution (EDR) schemes will require you to contact them before the EDR will consider your complaint (see Step 2 below).
Step 2: Contact an external dispute resolution scheme
If you are not satisfied with the response you have received (or do not receive a response within the time limits) from your financial adviser or super fund, take the matter to the body responsible for handling complaints in that area. Financial services businesses must belong to an external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme and they are required to disclose which scheme they are registered with, to handle any complaints about their advisory business.
EDR schemes hear disputes for free and are a simple and cheap alternative to going to court.
Note: Before contacting an EDR scheme, it’s important to be clear about what the dispute is about, and what you would like to happen to consider your complaint has been resolved.
Remember: If you are unsure where to go with your complaint, check the documents you received when you joined the super fund, or when you met with the adviser and agreed to pay for financial advice.
Tip: You can also call ASIC’s Infoline on 1300 300 630 for assistance with working out which EDR scheme can help.
EDR schemes: which complaints body is right for you?
If you have an unresolved complaint about your super fund or adviser, it’s important to talk to someone who can actually help you. Picking the right EDR scheme is important, so read on for an overview of the key bodies and which areas they can assist with.
EDR scheme changes from 1 November 2018
From 1 November 2018, a new single EDR scheme called the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), will replace the three largest existing EDRs: the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT), Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO).
AFCA will begin taking complaints from 1 November, although the SCT will continue running alongside the new body to work through any backlog of existing complaints. For more information on AFCA, see SuperGuide article Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) now handles complaints about super.
The existing EDRs will continue to receive and deal with complaints up to, and including, 31 October 2018. If you have a question about an existing complaint you have lodged with an EDR, you should contact your existing EDR until 31 October. Any complaints made to FOS and CIO before 1 November 2018, that remain unresolved at that date, will be dealt with by AFCA under the rules applying when the complaint was originally made.
1. Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT)
For most people (apart from SMSF trustees/members), the first port of call for help with a super complaint is the SCT. The SCT can assist with complaints about providers of superannuation, retirement savings accounts and annuities. The tribunal has limited jurisdiction however, so you need to check if it can deal with your problem.
You can find information about the SCT, including the types of complaints it deals with, who the SCT can assist, and how to lodge a complaint in the SuperGuide article How to make a complaint about your super fund or visit the SCT website.
2. Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)
The FOS is a free non-government service offering independent dispute resolution, and is designed to resolve complaints more quickly and cheaply than going to court.
FOS can only assist with complaints made about its participating members, which include the big banks, life insurers and many financial advice licensees. You can check if your adviser or financial service provider is a member here.
Note: Since 1 July 2016, accountants providing financial advice about SMSFs to retail clients need to join an EDR scheme. If you need to make a complaint about your accountant’s advice, it may be worth checking to see if they are registered as a participant with an EDR. For more information about accountants and financial advice, see SuperGuide article SMSFs: What advice can an accountant provide?
If you believe your financial services provider has acted unfairly towards you by breaking a law, breaching a relevant Code of Practice, or not meeting standards of good practice in the relevant industry sector, FOS may be able to help. Before contacting FOS you must make a formal complaint to your financial adviser or financial service provider and give their internal dispute resolute area 45 days to respond (or 21 days if you are in financial difficulty).
Contact FOS for assistance with complaints about financial services such as financial advice, investments and managed funds, life insurance products (aside from annuities or super products like life insurance), and pooled superannuation trusts. This includes complaints about misrepresentation in relation to personal super policies where the member joined the super fund before 12 December 1995.
FOS cannot help with disputes about decisions made by the trustee of a regulated super fund or approved deposit fund, as these need to go to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT).
The super-related disputes FOS dealt with during the 2016/2017 year mainly concerned SMSFs (43%), followed by retail super funds (19%) and industry funds (12%). The most prevalent issue for complaints about both SMSFs (43%) and retail funds (18%) was inappropriate advice. Most complaints relating to industry funds (17%) were about the failure to follow instructions/agreement.
Performance or fees: Complaints about the performance of an investment product or the level of fees will not be accepted by FOS unless they concern non-disclosure, misrepresentation or misleading conduct. For example, FOS cannot help with fee complaints, unless the fees charged were not permitted in the original contract, were not adequately disclosed, or there was poor service and a fee refund is being claimed.
For more information on the complaints that FOS can deal with, check out the FOS website.
3. Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO)
The CIO offers an impartial EDR scheme to help consumers resolve complaints with its 25,000 members. Participating service providers include financial planners, investment managers, credit unions and non-bank lenders, and mortgage and finance brokers. The CIO handles complaints where the value of the claim is $500,000 or less (but note that the CIO can only recommend compensation payments up to $323,500 if the complaint is received after 1 January 2018).
The CIO’s EDR scheme is similar to the FOS in its approach, as the CIO considers disputes where consumers believe their financial services provider has acted unfairly by breaking a law, breaching a relevant Code of Practice, or by not meeting standards of good practice in the relevant industry sector.
4. Australian Tax Office (ATO)
Although your employer is not an adviser or a super fund, employers play an important role in the super system because they are legally required to make super contributions on behalf of their employees. You can contact the ATO’s Superannuation Guarantee (SG) Helpline on 13 10 20 for complaints about your employer failing to pay super contributions on your behalf, or visit the ATO website.
For more information about unpaid super contributions, see the following SuperGuide articles:
- Does the ATO do enough on unpaid super?
- What to do if your employer doesn’t pay your super
- The easy way to find and consolidate your lost super
5. Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)
Super funds collect personal information about fund members, including a fund member’s name, address, email address, phone number, date of birth, and Tax File Number. Super funds also collect information about a fund member’s beneficiaries, employment details (including salary), and in some situations, information about your health and medical history.
6. Australian Securities & Investments Commission
You can contact ASIC for complaints about annuities issued by businesses that are not life companies (for example, friendly societies and banks). ASIC also handles disputes relating to consumer protection matters relating to securities (such as shares and debentures, futures, life insurance, general insurance, deposit-taking activities (for example, banks) and certain aspects relating to the supervision of superannuation funds (for example, misleading information in a super fund’s Product Disclosure Statement).