AUSTRALIA | Commonwealth Ombudsman helps students clear inappropriate debts

The Australian Government, with input from the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, has established new Student Redress Measures to address the large number of complaints about the former VET (Vocational Education and Training) FEE-HELP program.

This student loan scheme was the subject of a report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in December 2016, which responded to concerns about the scheme’s rapid expansion and low rates of completion. Stories about egregious education provider conduct were reported in the media, including stories of vulnerable Australians being signed-up to inappropriate education courses. The scheme was officially replaced by the VET Student Loans program on 1 January 2017.

Many of the complaints the Office has received are from Australians surprised to discover that they have a debt, because they were unaware they had been enrolled in a course of study under the VET FEE-HELP program. Others knew that they had enrolled in a course of study, however their providers had not explained that they would incur a debt.

Complainants have described being approached by salespeople in a public place, and feeling pressured to enrol in a course of study. Some were offered inducements (including free iPads) to enrol, with no explanation of the debt they would incur.

We have also received a large number of complaints about VET providers that have ceased trading. This affected the Office’s ability to resolve these complaints as the previous legislation did not provide a viable remedy pathway. Since the new Student Redress Measures have been passed by the Australian Government, the Ombudsman can make recommendations to the Australian Department of Education and Training to re-credit individual debts.

The Office will assess over 5,000 complaints that were received since 1 July 2017 under the new measures. We expect that we will continue to receive more complaints about VET FEE-HELP debts as these new measures are communicated to the Australian public.

You can keep track of our progress in implementing the remedy by looking at our quarterly updates published on our website.


Source: Commonwealth Ombudsman, Australia

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