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Frequently asked questions - Complaints Register 

Why have a Complaints Register?  

NSW Fair Trading currently receives over 45,000 complaints every year. By making some information about these complaints available to the public, businesses are provided with a incentive to deliver better customer service and consumers are helped to make more- informed decisions about where to shop.

The Complaints Register is also an open data initiative, as the NSW Government recognises that access to information encourages competition and empowers consumers.

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When does the Complaints Register start?  

Collection of complaints data for inclusion on the Complaints Register began on 1 July 2016. The first publication of the Register on the NSW Fair Trading website is on 25 August 2016, using data for the month of July.

The Complaints Register will be published in the second half of each month, using the data for the previous calendar month. Delaying publication until the second half of the following month will give NSW Fair Trading time to contact consumers to confirm all necessary details about the complaint have been obtained and ensure the correct business is identified. It also allows time for NSW Fair Trading to contact businesses so they are aware of the complaint.

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What information does the Complaints Register list?  

The Complaints Register will list the name of the business, the number of complaints NSW Fair Trading has received about the business in the previous calendar month and the product groups that are the subject of the complaints.

These product groups reflect segments of the marketplace, including:

  • accommodation and food
  • agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • community/strata schemes
  • construction
  • education and training
  • employment/investment/gambling
  • financial and insurance services
  • information media and telecommunications
  • professional, scientific and technical services
  • property
  • retail
  • tenancy/bonds/parks
  • transport, postal and warehousing
  • utilities
  • other services.

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Is it legal to publish this information?  

Yes. Section 86AA of the Fair Trading Act 1987 allows for the publication of information about complaints. No details about the person making the complaint will be published.

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I am a consumer and I made a complaint about a business. Why isn't it on the Register? 

The Complaints Register only provides information about businesses that have been the subject of 10 or more complaints to NSW Fair Trading in the previous calendar month.

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Why does the Register only include businesses that are the subject of 10 or more complaints in a month? 

This threshold was chosen based on the feedback by consumers and businesses provided to NSW Fair Trading during the consultation process.

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Won’t the Register only list larger businesses, as they are statistically more likely to have more complaints, due to having more customers and transactions? 

NSW Fair Trading does not have access to data about the number of transactions undertaken by all businesses, and therefore it has no useful way to measure or determine the size of a business.

The Register has a number of limitations which consumers are advised to be aware of. These are described in the Guidelines and include:

  • larger businesses may attract greater numbers of complaints due to the larger number of transactions undertaken
  • the Register only reports on complaints that have been made to NSW Fair Trading
  • the Register does not provide information about the severity or seriousness of a complaint, or the level of harm experienced
  • a complaint to NSW Fair Trading does not necessarily mean that the business being complained about has breached any laws
  • certain types of businesses may generate more complaints than others due to the nature of the products or services offered
  • businesses operate under a variety of legal structures (eg. franchise, independently owned subsidiary, etc.) which can impact how much influence a particular store or staff member has over policies or decisions, and
  • media attention and publicity about a matter can affect the number of complaints that are reported to NSW Fair Trading.

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What is the process for being removed from the Complaints Register once listed?  

Monthly listings will remain on the NSW Fair Trading website for a period of 2 years. This will enable trends to be identified and for changes in business performance to be tracked.

The main screen of the Complaints Register will display the months for which complaint data is available. This will allow users to choose the month they want to view.

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I am a franchisee who has never had a single complaint, yet my franchise brand is listed on the Register. Why are franchisees grouped together as one? 

The Complaints Register groups together complaints against particular branches/franchisees as against the overall brand, as this is how the public identify the business.

The public recognise these brand names and they are a means of attracting customers. Furthermore, as business policies applied by individual entities are likely to be set by the brand's head office, it is appropriate that complaints be recorded against the brand as a whole.

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I cannot get any complaint information at all regarding the particular kind of product/services I am looking for. Why not? 

The Complaints Register simply lists those businesses that have been the subject of 10 or more complaints in the previous calendar month. If a listed business sells products or services a consumer is interested in, the consumer can check to see if there are any complaints about those products/services.

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What other information does Fair Trading hold about consumer complaints that is not being made public? 

NSW Fair Trading holds information about the person who made the complaint, the business complained about, the product/services complained about, the conduct or problem complained about, including detailed information about the circumstances of the complaint, and the status of the complaint.

For privacy reasons, the Complaints Register will not provide information about the person who made the complaint.

NSW Fair Trading uses a large number of categories based on the Australian and New Zealand industrial Classification Code to describe the practice complained about. These are currently being reviewed to ensure they are easily understandable by the public. Information about the practice complained about may be included in the Complaints Register in the future.

Often NSW Fair Trading often does not have useful information about the outcome of a complaint and so it cannot be published. For example, Fair Trading may not have information about whether an agreed remedy was provided, or whether the complainant considered the remedy to be adequate.

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What protection is there for businesses from consumers making vexatious complaints? 

The process for registering a complaint with NSW Fair Trading is multi-layered, with a number of quality assurance checkpoints.

As part of its complaint handling process, NSW Fair Trading checks for duplicate complaints and complaints from the same person. NSW Fair Trading also appoints case managers to maintain an overview of complaints, for all businesses subject to multiple complaints.

NSW Fair Trading takes reasonable steps to ensure that all complaints included on the Register are from a real person, who had a real interaction with the business being complained about. These checks reduce the potential of false or fictitious complaints being included in the Register.

To be listed on the Register, a complaint must include sufficient information for NSW Fair Trading staff to be able to contact the consumer. There must be a name and at least one form of contact provided (phone number or email address). If either of these details are incomplete, the complaint will not be included in the Register.

NSW Fair Trading will also seek to determine whether a complaint was likely to be related to a genuine interaction with a business. NSW Fair Trading may request that the consumer provide a receipt for the transaction or other supporting information (e.g. the date, time and location of the incident or name of the business’s employee). This reduces the potential for false claims about fictitious transactions being made for the purpose of damaging a business’s reputation. If the consumer is not able to provide sufficient information about their interaction with the business being complained about, the complaint will not be included in the Register.

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Why doesn’t the Complaints Register only list complaints where the business has breached the law? 

Fair Trading publishes separate information concerning certain enforcement action taken in relation to breaches of the law.

Most of the complaints are in relation to poor customer service, which does not breach the law but causes customer dissatisfaction.

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Why doesn’t the Register provide information about how serious complaints are and what the problem complained about is? 

The Complaints Register will not provide details about the conduct or problem that is the subject of the complaint, although this information may be included in the future.

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How do I record email/contact information with Fair Trading, to ensure my business receives notification of any intended publication on the Register? 

Any business that is the subject of complaints will be contacted by NSW Fair Trading.

Businesses subject to multiple complaints will have a case manager appointed who will liaise with the business about its complaints. The case manager will obtain contact details from the business for notification if the business may be listed on the Register.

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Where do I find information about any enforcement action taken against a business?  

The NSW Fair Trading website contains a summary of compliance and enforcement results. The enforcement action report includes public information available through the courts, as well as information on public registers administered by NSW Fair Trading.

The NSW Fair Trading website also contains a list of public warnings about unfair business practices and people who engage in them. They are issued by the Minister or the Commissioner for Fair Trading when considered to be in the public interest.

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