Poor communication and delay exacerbated distress of taxi and hire car licence holders

 
Thursday 14 June 2018
 
Taxi and hire car licence holders were given the “bureaucratic run-around” when seeking payments from the Fairness Fund set up by the state government to provide them prompt financial assistance, the Victorian Ombudsman has found.
 
Tabling her Investigation into the administration of the Fairness Fund for taxi and hire car licence holders in the Victorian Parliament today, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources had executed its management of the Fund poorly.

“The department’s poor communication, compounded by delay, was unreasonable and would have exacerbated the distress already felt by people who believed the government had taken away their livelihood or life savings,” Ms Glass said.
 
The Fairness Fund was established to assist licence holders experiencing ‘significant financial hardship’ as a result of industry reforms. Despite the department initially advising applicants that all decisions and payments were expected to be made in mid-2017, it was not until 30 April 2018, 12 months after applications closed that they were all finalised.
 
Ms Glass said many of the Fund’s problems stemmed from the department’s initial miscalculation: it forecast 150 applications, but received 1,247. “This clearly had an impact on timelines, as did the fact that many applicants did not provide the comprehensive financial information requested and the high potential for fraud,” she said.
 
“While the Fund was overwhelmed with applications and needed to ensure that public money would not be paid out inappropriately, hundreds of people were given the bureaucratic run-around.
 
“We did not conclude that the Fund itself was flawed, although much better planning and communication, including managing expectations, would have avoided many of the complaints.”
 
Ms Glass did not investigate the fairness of the decisions made by the Fund as it was an ex gratia scheme: they were discretionary payments and there was no obligation for the government to provide them.
 
Many of the 64 complaints received by the Ombudsman were about the perceived unfairness of the industry reforms themselves but this was not part of the investigation. “Deregulation of the taxi and hire car industry is not a matter for the Ombudsman – the policies of elected governments are matters for the ballot box,” Ms Glass said.
 
While all applications to the Fund have been finalised, the Ombudsman’s investigation provides some important lessons for the handling of such discretionary schemes in future. “Good intentions should not be undone – as they were in this case – by poor execution,” Ms Glass said.
 
The Fairness Fund was not the primary means for licence holders to receive redress, as the vast bulk of assistance was provided through the state government’s $332 million Transition Assistance package.
 
 
Media contact: Ainslie Gowan | Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235 |  ainslie.gowan@ombudsman.vic.gov.au