Annual Review 2022–23

About the Independent Assessor

Melissa Dwyer serves as the AFCA Independent Assessor (IA). Chosen by, and reporting directly to, the AFCA Board, the IA works within the IA’s Terms of Reference. The IA investigates concerns about how we handle complaints and whether we meet our service delivery standards. It's important to note that under Clauses 8 and 9 of the Independent Assessor’s Terms of Reference, the IA can’t review the merits of an AFCA decision. Hence, the IA will not consider complaints about AFCA decisions or findings, including determinations and jurisdictional decisions, but can assess whether the AFCA process has been fair.

The IA provides feedback on how we handle complaints and recommends improvements. She is not involved in daily AFCA operations and reports to the AFCA Board.

Independent Assessor complaints in 2022–23

The IA received 257 complaints. The top five issues for complainants were: 

  1. inadequate responses to correspondence or calls
  2. bias
  3. unreasonable delays in responding to a complaint
  4. failure to address key issues/concerns
  5. lack of procedural fairness.


There were nine complaints from financial firms. Four of these complaints could not be considered by the IA because they were solely about the merits or outcome of a case, AFCA’s fees or other membership-related decisions.

Independent Assessor findings report

The IA received 257 complaints and closed 280. She issued 84 assessments, 25 more than 2021–22.

Seven complaints were withdrawn and eight were closed because the complainant didn’t respond to an information request or other correspondence.

One hundred and eighty-one complaints fell outside the terms of reference because:

  • they were about the merits of a decision (including jurisdictional decisions) or a financial firm’s actions 
  • AFCA’s investigation was either still in progress, or yet to start. 

Proportion of complaints closed following an assessment or an ‘outside terms of reference’ ruling:


Financial year



32% (61)


31% (59)


30% (84)


Closed as outside terms of reference/withdrawn/failure to respond

Financial year



68% (131)


69% (135)


70% (196)

Of complaints the IA substantiated, the top five issues were:

  1. Communication – inadequate responses to correspondence or calls. 
  2. Delay – unreasonable delays in progressing a financial firm complaint. 
  3. Information – poor quality information/advice. 
  4. Service complaints – delays in responding to an AFCA service complaint.
  5. Updates – lack of updates to the parties about the progress of a complaint. 


When a complaint is substantiated, the IA can recommend to AFCA’s Chief Ombudsman that we:

  • offer an apology 
  • pay compensation for any distress or inconvenience caused (non–financial loss)  
  • take other action.

During the 2022–23 financial year, the IA recommended 51 apologies to complainants for service failings and $19,150 in non-financial compensation. Twice, AFCA’s IA recommended an increase in non-financial compensation for failings AFCA previously apologised for.

The IA also recommended AFCA take eight ‘other business improvement actions’, which included the following:

  • How AFCA considers issues raised, but not addressed or excluded, in a complaint.
  • Ensuring appropriate explanations of decisions are given to the parties post determination. 
  • Ensuring complainants are aware of how to submit their reasons for objecting to a jurisdictional decision.

AFCA has fully accepted and actioned all recommendations.


Clause 3 of the IA’s Terms of Reference allows her to recommend ways that AFCA can improve business operations. The IA noted the following themes in 2022–23:


Some submissions to the IA were unable to be accessed (for technical reasons) or did not meet the threshold for translation into English. The IA said AFCA should advise complainants whenever their submissions were inaccessible, or not going to be translated, so complainants had the opportunity to resubmit or further argue the relevance and importance of their submissions.


Communication failings were the biggest category of complaints substantiated. These complaints generally concerned inadequate and/or delayed responses to correspondence or calls (especially post determination) and the provision of poor-quality information/advice. 

The IA observed that AFCA’s planning for one-off special events, such as handling ‘legacy complaints’, needed to include better, more proactive communication and risk management plans. 

Fairness and impartiality

Six ‘lack of procedural fairness’ complaints were substantiated this year (a small percentage overall). For example, AFCA failed to exchange some financial firm submissions, which meant the complainant could not respond to the submissions before we issued our Preliminary Assessment. Most complaints about bias and lack of procedural fairness were not substantiated. 

Efficiency and effectiveness

Many complaints about unreasonable delays in progressing and finalising complaints were substantiated in 2022–23, partly driven by a substantial spike in complaint volumes. The IA is continuing to closely monitor delays and AFCA’s communication and management of them.

Other business improvement recommendations

The IA’s seven business improvement recommendations for 2022–23 included the following:

  • More staff guidance about sharing of information between cases involving the same parties.
  • Making case workers aware of the process and importance of ‘unpacking’ (downloading to the case file) different parties’ submissions. 
  • Reviewing our approach to third-party authorities to ensure representatives lodge complaints with the complainant’s knowledge and consent.
  • Reviewing our ‘Apprehended Bias Policy and Procedure’ and ‘Social Media Guideline’ so the language and advice is clear and reiterates to staff that both the perception of independence and actual independence are crucial to maintaining public trust.

Business improvement recommendations, together with AFCA’s responses, are reported to AFCA’s Board. The Board monitors the implementation of the proposed actions. As of June 2023, three of the seven recommendations had been addressed.


During 2022–23, the IA attended AFCA’s Board meetings and provided quarterly written reports. She also reported quarterly in writing to ASIC and publicly, via AFCA’s website, on a six-monthly basis.

Case study – Sharing information across complaints 


This year, three complainants lodged complaints about AFCA’s use of information from one complaint in a separate complaint. The circumstances were that the complainant:

  • represented themselves in one complaint and their partner in another
  • had two concurrent complaints with different financial firms
  • had a current complaint and a closed complaint with the same financial firm.

These complaints highlighted potential issues around complainant privacy and procedural fairness.

Following a thorough investigation, the IA recommended that AFCA develops further guidance for staff on the sharing of information between cases, particularly with regard to procedural fairness, consent and privacy issues.

Findings and outcome

AFCA reviewed our privacy obligations material. We also sought to develop staff member understanding and awareness by:

  1. updating our site and forms to ensure complainants understand that we may need to use information from one complaint to resolve another 
  2. updating our internal privacy training module accordingly.
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