When disputes arise between your business and other parties, it’s often best to resolve the matter before it gets to the point of costly and time-consuming legal proceedings. Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, explains how his office can help.
Since being established six years ago, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has helped more than 28,000 small businesses across Australia to resolve disputes outside of the costly legal system and reach successful resolutions.
Our approach to dispute resolution is to encourage the parties to work together, to focus on their long term interests and to repair their relationship where they can, so they can get back to their businesses.
We know that once a small business becomes involved in legal proceedings to settle a dispute, it can be overwhelming and costly, not to mention the time it takes time away from running and growing their business.
And the money they seek to recover can be eaten up by legal fees.
How the ASBFEO helps small and family businesses
Our research shows the number one cause of disputes was payment times – with small businesses too often bearing the brunt of larger businesses delaying payment, or not paying at all, for services completed.
But there’s many other circumstances where we can solve disputes.
We helped a Brisbane cafe owner leasing commercial space in a residential building who was hit with an electricity price adjustment, backdated three years, worth $23,000. We were able to convince the energy company to conduct a review and they agreed to only require payment for future consumption.
We know that digital platforms can be a great way to reach customers but when problems arise, it can also bring a small business to a halt and mean the loss of potential sales. It can also be incredibly difficult to have a complaint recognised or heard.
We’ve assisted many small and businesses who’ve need help resolving problems with Facebook, Google, Instagram, Amazon and Uber.
This has included cases where we have been able to intervene to help restore small business social media accounts and pages that have been locked, disabled, hacked or the victim of a scam.
Recently we were able to find a pathway to resolve a dispute for a courier driver who failed a background check by Amazon with no explanation. Our involvement saw Amazon conduct a review and it found an error in its system. The courier passed the checks and has been approved to drive for Amazon.
It’s not just disputes with other, generally bigger, businesses where we can lend a hand. Our assistance team can help small and family businesses in dispute with a government department or agency, including our Tax Concierge, which can provide assistance to those small and family businesses in dispute with the Australian Taxation Office.
Small and family businesses in disputes that fall under a number of industry Codes including Franchising, Dairy, Horticulture and Oil can also seek support.
How to seek Ombudsman support
Each case is triaged by a dedicated case manager to determine how the ASBFEO can assist them. If there is a more appropriate agency, we will refer the small business there. In many cases, we can provide options to the small businesses on ways they can try and resolve their dispute.
Our aim is to provide options to help achieve timely and low-cost resolution.
The initial service we provide small and family business is free, and in many cases, disputes are resolved relatively quickly. Where appropriate, we may recommend that the parties hire a third party to assist them to resolve the dispute, as part of an alternative dispute resolution process.
On ASBFEO’s website, there is a free online dispute support tool which can help businesses find the right service to help them resolve their dispute.
Small businesses that need help with resolving a dispute can visit www.asbfeo.gov.au or call the hotline: 1300 650 460.
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