Canberra businesses have dispute resolution at their doorstep

ASBFEO26 March 2020
Kate Carnell

Kate Carnell is the inaugural Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, and advocates for small businesses and family enterprises. Photo: Region Media.

Canberra’s 21,000-strong small business community has free dispute resolution support at its fingertips thanks to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, which may also be able to assist Canberra businesses through its advocacy work.

ASBFEO’s recent Access to Justice Inquiry found small and family businesses are spending $130,000 on average to resolve disputes through the court system, and more than half believed they were wasting time and money doing so.

The current COVID-19 crisis won’t help those issues, which can easily be a matter of survival for the many small businesses who make up a significant proportion of the ACT’s economy.

The number one problem cited was payment times – with small businesses too often bearing the brunt of larger businesses delaying payment or not paying at all for services completed.

“We know that once a small business gets swept up in legal proceedings, they feel stuck,” Ms Carnell says.

“Even if the small business has $100,000 owing – which is a huge amount for them – that can be eaten up quite quickly by legal fees and may take a long time to get a resolution.”

Since the office was established just four years ago, ASBFEO has provided free assistance to more than 10,000 small businesses nationwide, including many businesses based in Canberra.

“We’ve helped a number of small businesses in Canberra avoid the costly legal system and reach successful resolutions to their disputes,” Ms Carnell says.

“The cases have been varied, everything from a florist who had ongoing mechanical issues with a work van, to a local photographer who was having issues recovering numerous outstanding invoices from other larger businesses.”

In fact, the ASBFEO assistance team can help small businesses with a range of issues including everything from intellectual property, to leasing agreements and telecommunications.

The assistance team can also help Canberra-based small business in dispute with a government (ACT or Commonwealth) department or agency.

Small businesses in disputes that fall under a number of industry codes (including Franchising, Dairy, Horticulture and Oil) may also find ASBFEO’s assistance useful.

Each case is triaged by a dedicated case manager to determine if ASBFEO can assist them. If the team is unable to help, they can refer the small business to an appropriate agency that can be of assistance.

“We want to keep small businesses out of the courts where, let’s face it, the only winners are lawyers,” Ms Carnell says.

“The service we provide won’t cost the small business a cent and, in many cases, it’s resolved relatively quickly.”

Small businesses that need help resolving a dispute can visit ASBFEO or call the hotline 1300 650 460.

There is also a free online dispute support tool which can help businesses find the right service to help them resolve their dispute.

“At the end of the day, we want to help small businesses resolve a dispute as quickly as possible so they can get on with what they do best – running their business,” Ms Carnell says.

Kate Carnell is the inaugural Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, and advocates for small businesses and family enterprises. To learn more, visit ASBFEO.

Original Article published by ASBFEO on The RiotACT.

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