A new independent umpire will deliver stronger protection for students having issues with training providers under new legislation introduced to Parliament today by the Turnbull Government.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the new VET Student Loans Ombudsman would be able to investigate and resolve student complaints and the compliance issues of training organisations and ultimately make recommendations to address any issues. 

“This Ombudsman will help clean up the leftover fallout of Labor’s failed VET FEE-HELP scheme that saw students exploited and taxpayer funds rorted,” Minister Birmingham said.
“The Ombudsman complements the Turnbull Government’s VET Student Loans program that began this year to replace VET FEE-HELP to ensure students and taxpayers are protected and to help rebuild the reputation of Australia’s high-quality vocational education sector.  

“The establishment of an independent dispute resolution process through the VET Student Loans Ombudsman, with the power to adequately investigate complaints, will give students confidence that their complaints will be treated seriously.

“Most Australians would be familiar with the stories about vulnerable students being ripped off or conned into signing up for courses they would never complete after Labor changed VET FEE-HELP and opened the floodgates to shonky providers.

“Once data emerged highlighting the issues with VET FEE-HELP, the Coalition acted to close Labor’s loopholes. While the 20 measures our government put in place over 2015 and 2016 have stemmed some of the losses in VET FEE-HELP, with total 2016 loans projected to be hundreds of millions of dollars lower than in 2015, it is also clear that a completely new program was essential to weed out the rorters and restore credibility to VET.

“The new safeguards we’ve put in place mean students can have confidence that the training they are receiving is aligned to workplace needs and strong employment outcomes, and is being delivered by training providers who have met the tougher benchmarks we have set. At the same time, taxpayers can have confidence the loans the Government is providing are for genuine students, learning skills that will contribute to the economy and increasing the likelihood the loans will be repaid.” 

Minister Birmingham said he had “beefed up” the Department of Education and Training’s powers to help students who had been exploited by shonky providers under VET FEE-HELP, but that the Ombudsman would build on that work.

“A specialist complaints team has been operating in the Department since May last year to help those students who have been ripped off under VET FEE-HELP,” Minister Birmingham said. 

“Just since May last year the Department has already helped get more than 2,075 HELP debts fully or partially re-credited worth around $19.1 million, and we have joint court action with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission against four different providers. 

“The Ombudsman will step up the work the Department has done to help students. They will have the power to investigate complaints and recommend that providers and others take action, or stop certain behaviour, to address and resolve problems of affected students.

“Where a provider fails to act, the Department can take compliance action including remitting student debts, civil penalties, or suspension or revocation from providing student loans. The Ombudsman will also be able to refer information to regulators, such as the Australian Skills Quality Authority and the ACCC.

“Importantly, the Ombudsman will also ensure students under the previous VET FEE-HELP scheme have an appropriate avenue to direct their complaints and investigate any debt disputes.” 

The Ombudsman will operate as part of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and will:

  • give providers advice and training about best practice for the handling of complaints made by VET students,
  • review provider compliance with program requirements, 
  • make recommendations to providers and the department arising from its enquiries; and 
  • work with the sector to develop a code of practice.