The Victorian Ombudsman is an office holder whose role includes investigating complaints about administrative actions and decisions taken by Victorian public organisations. The Ombudsman is supported in the role by staff who conduct investigations on an independent, impartial and free basis.
- Victorian universities and TAFEs;
- Victorian government departments e.g. Dept. of Health and Human Services; Dept. of Education and Training; Dept. of Justice and Community Safety;
- Victorian government organisations e.g. WorkSafe Victoria; VicRoads; Fines Victoria;
- Publicly funded community services;
- Certain professional boards e.g. Victorian Legal Services Board.
- Appeal and review of University decisions including grievances, administrative actions, discipline/APC decisions, exclusions, and tuition fee complaints;
- Appealing Council decisions/fines and Fines Victoria infringement notices;
- Public Housing maintenance and repairs, eviction/enforcement actions and complaints;
- Some VicRoads decisions related mainly to licensing and registration payment errors;
- Human rights complaints e.g. freedom of movement/peaceful assembly/association;
- Complaints about Worksafe, self-insurers, Worksafe’s five insurance agents;
- Appealing Vic government department decisionsg. Dep. of Education and Training, DHHS.
Anyone with a complaint that falls within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. You do not have to be an Australian citizen to lodge a complaint with the Victorian Ombudsman. You can lodge applications from overseas.
The Ombudsman has extensive jurisdiction to consider administrative actions taken by a university. The definition of administrative action is in the Ombudsman Act 1973 (Vic).
- A decision and an act;
- The refusal or failure to take a decision or to perform an act;
- The formulation of a proposal or intention;
- The making of a recommendation (including a recommendation made to a Minister);
- Some decisions to exclude or terminate the enrolment of a student. This will depend on whether a university has followed the necessary processes in taking that action.
Case officers consider complaints and require a previous attempt for informal resolution and also that all internal University complaint/grievance processes have been exhausted. They decide if there is a case to investigate, and will usually contact students and the University. If there is a case to answer, the University will be given an opportunity to resolve the student’s concerns. If there is no case to answer, the Ombudsman’s office will provide reasons for that decision, and consider the matter closed.
The Ombudsman formally ‘investigates’ a small number of complaints (less than 10% progress to investigation). Most complaints are dealt with by making inquiries.
- Procedural irregularities in the process to exclude a student due to unsatisfactory performance;
- Delays in correspondence from a university to a student about an issue they are trying to resolve;
- Inadequate consideration of an international student’s request for release to study at another academic institution;
- Procedural issues with enrolment and acknowledgment of prior learning.
Each case is considered on its own merits, however in general, the Ombudsman does not deal with:
- Complaints outside its jurisdiction;
- Requests made under the Freedom of Information Act;
- Complaints relating to terms and conditions of employment;
- Where the complainant has an avenue of appeal to a tribunal or court;
- Some historical matters where the passage of time has passed, as this can make investigating or finding a resolution impractical;
- The Ombudsman will generally not have a role in respect of academic complaints about marking or assessments, although exceptions may be made where an administrative action or process is the focus of the complaint and has negatively affected one or more students.
When considering a complaint, the Ombudsman is not limited to reviewing the technical validity of a decision or action. The Ombudsman’s jurisdiction relates to administrative actions, but the Ombudsman can form opinions about processes relevant to administrative actions and the fairness of those actions. For example, the Ombudsman may conclude that particular administrative action by a university was lawful, but that it was still unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or wrong. The Ombudsman can only form such opinions at the end of an investigation, however, these considerations can guide a case officers’ decision-making.
Case officers generally consider whether the facts of the matter, together with applicable laws, policies and procedures, to ascertain if the university made a reasonable decision. The Ombudsman does not have a specific process for dealing with university related complaints. In some cases, they will consult with other case officers who may have more experience in dealing with higher education complaints.
1) Attempt to resolve the matter with the University or organisation first using their internal dispute resolution process;
2) Make a formal complaint via the Victorian Ombudsman website online form outlining:
- Summary of what happened and its impact on you;
- Relevant dates and the detail of who and what organisation was involved;
- Attach and documentation or correspondence relevant to your complaint e.g. emails or letters you sent or received, your complaints to the organisation and their response, other relevant supporting documents;
- What outcome you’re looking for secure;
3)Initial Ombudsman review on merits of complaint and/or contacting relevant stakeholders;
4) Informal resolution (if possible) or notification of outcome;
5) Investigation (less than 10% progress to investigation – more on investigation process here);
6) Decision and recommendations:
- The Ombudsman only has coercive powers in compelling information and testimony;
- The Ombudsman is not a court, and her recommendations are not binding;
- Ombudsman recommendations set out actions organisations should take to rectify the errors or prevent similar issues in future. (About 98% are usually accepted).
- The Victorian Ombudsman’s website includes detailed information on the Victorian Ombudsman’s role and a ‘Complaints’ section with information about the complaint process generally. ombudsman.vic.gov.au
- The Ombudsman Act 1973 outlines in detail the Victorian Ombudsman’s powers and scope in handling, investigating and resolving complaints and disputes. https://content.legislation.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-10/73-8414aa112%20authorised.pdf