The Turnbull Government’s new VET Ombudsman will commence work from 1 July 2017 after legislation passed Parliament today to build on strong protections for students set up because of Labor’s failed VET FEE-HELP scheme.

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

“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 and recommend actions to address them, will give students confidence that their complaints will be treated seriously.”

Minister Birmingham said the Ombudsman would step up the work the Department continues to do to support students.

“The Ombudsman 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,” Minister Birmingham said. 

“Where a provider fails to act, the Department can take compliance action including cancelling student debts and recouping payments made to providers, civil penalties, or suspending or cancelling providers from offering student loans. The Ombudsman will also be able to refer information to regulators, such as the Australian Skills Quality Authority and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“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 office 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. 

The Ombudsman’s reports to the Minister will be tabled in Parliament. The Department’s responses to the Ombudsman’s recommendations will be included in its reports to Parliament about VET Student Loans.