We set up Clickability because it’s really hard to know when and how to give feedback about disability services. And you can ALWAYS use our Quick Review link to give positive or critical feedback about any service provider.

I don’t know about you, but I get confused about the Ombudsman, Commissioner, Human Rights, Consumer Rights, lawyers… and now there’s the National Disability Insurance Agency out there too! How on earth do you sort things out?

Well, I’ve done some research, and I’m going to try to make it really simple. Let’s see how we go! This is information about Victoria. Not all of it will be relevant in other Australian states.

1. I want to complain about a disability service provider.

You need the Disability Services Commissioner. They resolve complaints made by or on behalf of people who receive disability services about disability service providers who are registered with the Department of Health and Human Services. Start by giving them a a call on 1800 677 342 or have a look at their website: http://www.odsc.vic.gov.au/

2. I want to complain about a mental health service provider.

You need the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner. They deal with complaints about Victorian public mental health services. Here’s their website: http://www.mhcc.vic.gov.au/

3. I want to complain about being discriminated against out there in the world.

You need the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). Their job is to eliminate discrimination in Victoria. They offer information, education, consultancy services, and legal and policy advice. Here’s their website: http://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au/

4. I want to complain about something that happened at the NDIA.

a. First, talk to the NDIA. Here’s their website: http://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/contact-us/feedback-complaints.

b. If you can’t resolve it with the NDIA, then you need the Commonwealth Ombudsman. They deal with complaints about Commonwealth Government departments and agencies. Here’s their website: http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/making-a-complaint

5. I want to complain about not getting the NDIS funding that I deserve.

a. First, talk to the NDIA. You can ask to speak to a different planner or local area coordinator. Here’s their website: http://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/contact-us/feedback-complaints.

b. If you can’t resolve it with the NDIA, you can lodge your complaint with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. They conduct independent reviews of decisions made by the Australian Government. Here is their website: http://www.aat.gov.au/

6, I want to complain about a medical issue.

a. Most hospitals have a patient representative whose role is to assist people to resolve problems with hospital services.

b. If your complaint is about a health practitioner you could talk to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Their website is https://www.ahpra.gov.au/

c. The Health Services Commissioner (HSC) helps people get their health information and to receive and resolve complaints about health service providers including public and private hospitals, medical practitioners, and nurses. Their website is http://www.health.vic.gov.au/hsc

So that’s the first bit. But I still had a few more questions!

1. What does an Ombudsman do?

You can complain to an Ombudsman when you’re unhappy about the way you’ve been treated by a government department, for example Centrelink. When you make a complaint to an Ombudsman about a government action or decision, the Ombudsman can look into whether or not the government department properly followed the law or their own policies, tell you what occurred, and whether it was reasonable or unreasonable.

2. Why would I go to an Ombudsman instead of the Disability Services Commissioner?

The Disability Services Commissioner works with people to resolve complaints about registered disability service providers, but the Ombudsman investigates complaints and makes recommendations about government departments and agencies. The Ombudsman asks questions like, did the department follow the process they were supposed to? The Commissioner tends to deal in a much broader range of issues in terms of what took place or who did what.

3. When would I go to the state rather than the Commonwealth Ombudsman?

a. The Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate complaints about Commonwealth Government bodies and agencies. These Centrelink, Department of Human Services, and the NDIA. They can’t override decisions made by those agencies. They try to resolve disputes by consultation and negotiation, and by making formal recommendations to the government if necessary.

b. The State Ombudsman can investigate Victorian government departments, agencies, and local government. These include local or area councils, DHHS, public schools and State Trustees. They don’t have the power to investigate administrative action taken by Police, the Courts or Tribunals or government legal advisors.

Making complaints can be really hard, emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes family and friends can help, but sometimes it’s valuable to have help from someone who knows the system, can give advice and answer questions, and direct you to the right place.

4. Where can I find someone to help me?

You’re looking for an advocate. Start by talking to one of the many peak bodies representing people with disability, for example VALID, Disability Resource Centre, Independent Mental Health Advocacy, Youth Disability Advocacy Service, or Leadership Plus. If you’re in a rural and regional area, you can contact the Rights Information and Advocacy Centre. If you’ve been through VCAT, have a problem with guardianship, or if you have no other options, talk to the Office of the Public Advocate.

5. When should I find a lawyer?

If you can’t resolve the complaint on your own or with an advocate, you might want to get advice from a lawyer. Each person or family has to decide for themselves whether to find a lawyer, depending on the type of concern they have. Because lawyers can be very expensive, we recommend trying to resolve your concerns through the other options available first. Legal representation is usually provided full fee, “pro bono” (free or at cost), or “No Win No Fee” (you pay the costs of the lawyer at the end of the case only if you win). The best place to get legal advice will depend on the type of complaint that you have.

a. A good starting point would be to contact Legal Aid or the Community Legal Centre.

b. Justice Connect have a lot of online resources. They also screen requests for legal assistance and refer people to their lawyer members who offer pro bono services. Their website is http://www.justiceconnect.org.au/

c. The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) represents people working in the law across Victoria, and has a service for people who need a referral to a lawyer ([email protected]). They also do Legal Fact sheets individual areas of law which might be useful to you: http://www.liv.asn.au/For-the-Community/Legal-Fact-Sheets)

d. Villamanta works with disability-specific legal issues, as do the Disability Discrimination Legal Service.

e. If your complaint is about an injury, you might want to talk to a lawyer who works in personal injuries. Generally, these lawyers act for people on a “No Win No Fee” basis. Try googling “personal injury lawyer”.

g. There a quite a few private companies who we know have helped people with disability recently including Robinson and Gill, Morris and Blackburn, Slater and Gordon, and Clayton Utz. We are not necessarily recommending them, because we don’t know anything about their services. Please tell us if you know of more, and write them a review on Clickability.

Ok, so this is kind of clear as mud, right?!

I have used a lots of lists here, so I’m going to finish with one more: a list of three simple things I hope you can take with you:

1. Always start by trying to speak to the person you’ve had the problem with first. It takes up so much time, money and energy going through these channels, and if you can resolve it immediately, that’s the best option.

2. You can always give anonymous feedback about any disability support service or the accessibility of any mainstream organisation through Clickability.

3. All of the organisations I mentioned in this blog are here to help! If they can’t help you themselves, they’ll tell you who to call.

Aviva Beecher Kelk

Aviva Beecher Kelk is co-founder and co-director of Clickability. She’s really interested in the interaction between economic and social issues. She’s been told on more than one occasion that she thinks too much.

This post is brought to you by Clickability. We’re working towards a better disability service sector by helping users share their ratings and reviews. We invite you to write a review.

Reply to this blog post

Making disability-related complaints in Victoria Service Reviews

  1. A good summary of agencies but don’t assume that they will help with complaints.

    Regrettably the NDIS has not yet finalised it’s quality and safeguards policy and framework. This is the quality levels a consumer can expect and safeguards to be built into the system to protect against exploitation and provide a body to independently resolve complaints.

    As a temporary expedient the NDIS has agreements with State governments to use their existing systems until a federal system is introduced. This means in Vic that the Disability Services Commissioner, the Public Advocate, etc will be the complaints independent bodies.

    The problem with this is that these state organizations have been found to be flawed. The recent media exposure of serious abuse in disability services resulted in an inquiry by the Victorian Ombudsman and a Parliamentary committee. The latter reporting in May 2016. Both of these, and particularly the Parliamentary committee, made recommendation of significant changes to the existing system and legislation. Submissions from families and people with disabilities detailed horrific abuse and neglect. The inquiries noted the lack of protection for consumer rights and endemic mis-treatment. The reports and submissions are available on the internet.

    The NDIS is a huge cultural change to the sector, replacing the old charitable ‘put up with what you get’ to a consumer focused and supposedly empowered system. In spite of their rhetoric and lovely writings, this is an entirely unknown concept for DHHS who were supposed to give leadership to the disability sector. Their risk-averse, paternalistic, one size fits all attitude has seen rights and choice and a responsive complaints system go out the window. As an already conflicted organization – funding, accreditation, service provider, gatekeeper – this has combined to breed an institutional culture which seems to have spread to other agencies. Hence recommendations for significant change by these inquiries.

    The Parliamentary inquiry recommendations to the government have received little publicity and whether they will be accepted and implemented is the prerogative of the government. They have a significant task with the NDIS and the State quality and safeguards system is only one of the issues – for instance what is happening with Group Homes, transfer of Specialist Disability Accommodation, funding for those over 65, etc.

    Victoria has the Disability Act which mandates quality standards and incorporates principles such as rights and choice. But there is no enforcement process and service providers, including DHHS, can and do ignore the Act. The State also has the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities but this deals with serious issues such as medical experimentation, incarceration, etc. Additionally it only applies to ‘Public Authorities’ – effectively government departments. It does not envisage senseless tyrannical abuse acts such as a service provider imposing fines for instances of bad language, or insisting upon accepting ‘doctors orders’.

    So for those new to the disability sector and want to exercise their consumer rights, try the system but just don’t expect too much support to right a wrong from the existing State system.

    1. Thank you Wandiligong. Really interesting points. We too hope that the NDIS will jump-start some genuine change.