Sophie Elsworth National Features December 24, 2012
A GROWING battle with financial institutions over credit and insurance products has seen dispute figures soar.
The latest Financial Ombudsman's Annual Review shows Australians were involved in more than 18,400 credit disputes in the last financial year - a rise of 27 per cent.
More than 10,400 general insurance complaints were made during the same period, up 19 per cent.
The Financial Ombudsman Service's chief ombudsman, Shane Tregillis, says there are several reasons disputes figures rose sharply during this period.
"It's clear economic conditions mean that people can suffer hardship and paying their credit obligations for a variety of reasons," he says.
"They may lose their job, they may have an accident ... there are people doing it tough out there and costs are rising."
Tregillis says awareness of the FOS has significantly increased since legislation was introduced requiring financial services firms to outline the service is free.
He urges consumers to make a genuine attempt to try to resolve disputes with their financial institution before they contact the ombudsman to make a complaint.
"We try to resolve most of the disputes by agreement ... where people can keep paying the loan but in a way that deals with financial circumstances.
"If you do feel that you have problems with meeting your credit obligations, then approach the financial institutions as early as possible."The report blames the jump in complaints on a rising number of households in financial difficulty, the natural disasters that hit from 2010-12 and ongoing impacts of the global financial crisis.
A spokesman from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission says there are several reasons for the spike in the number of complaints.
"There has been an increase in FOS membership by financial service providers," the spokesman says.
"Consumers are increasingly aware that they have rights and there are dispute resolution schemes available. Many complainants are experiencing financial hardship, so they are wanting to make the most of their situation."