NSW Fair Trading Lists Most Complained about Companies on Complaints Register

Friday 26 August 2016 @ 9.59 a.m. | Legal Research | Trade & Commerce

In a recent abc.net.au article, it was revealed that NSW has become the first state to launch a complaints register, publicly listing the companies which receive the most complaints to authorities.

Why have a Complaints Register?

During the 2015-16 financial year, NSW Fair Trading received over 50,000 complaints. Making some complaint information publically available provides businesses with an incentive to provide better customer service and helps consumers make more informed decisions about where to shop.

The information listed on the Complaints Register is downloadable, and is part of the NSW Government's open data policy, which recognises the important role that information plays in the economy and the community.

The Complaints Register is established under s 86AA of the Fair Trading Act 1987 (NSW).

Complaints Register Guidelines

Only complaints that are deemed by case workers to be genuine and not vexatious are included.

NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe (the Commissioner) said all companies that received 10 or more complaints in a month would be named:

"It's open data, so it's information that has not been manipulated in any way and information I think the public are really deserving to know, in terms of the track record of businesses. I think it's only appropriate the public also have that information available to them."

According to NSW Fair Trading, the Guidelines provide information about what is classed as a complaint, how NSW Fair Trading deals with complaints, and the limitations of NSW Fair Trading’s complaints data.

The Guidelines note that:

  • many complaints received by Fair Trading simply relate to poor customer service. Appearing on the Register does not necessarily mean that a business has breached any laws;
  • the Register only reports on complaints received by NSW Fair Trading;
  • larger businesses or businesses in particular industries may attract more complaints; and
  • media attention on an issue may generate more complaints.

The Guidelines will be updated from time to time as refinements are made to NSW Fair Trading's policies, processes and systems.

Public Reaction to the Register

A spokesperson from a real estate company said he supported a complaints register, but that the system chosen was unfair and could mislead consumers:

"We're concerned that it doesn't represent or support the interests of consumers in NSW. It doesn't clearly identify the individual offices that may have had a complaint registered against them that are part of a large group, whether that's a marketing body or a franchise group."

The spokesperson said the individual offices should be treated as separate businesses:

“By putting complaints under a master brand, they're just not identifying the businesses that are not doing well."

Tim McKibbin, NSW Chief Executive of the Real Estate Institute of NSW, said NSW Fair Trading had chosen the wrong model for its register:

"You may have an independent agent in your area that could end up with seven or eight complaints against them, and not get onto the register. [Or] you could have a franchise agent in your area that is very competent and, in their own right, has no complaints registered against them, but unfortunately across the entire franchise group .. then that brand would be tarnished and the consumer misled."

The Fair Trading Commissioner dismissed the criticism about the Register, saying:

"We think it's entirely appropriate that we aggregate that information under a brand — that's the brand the company advertises under. We've ensured that the guidelines we act under have been properly scrutinised, so the NSW Information Commissioner, the NSW Customer Service Commissioner and the NSW Small Business Commissioner have all looked to those guidelines and endorsed them."

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NSW Fair Trading lifts the lid on most complained about companies, four real estate companies listed - abc.net.au

NSW Fair Trading Complaints Register  

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