Evolution of the TCO dispute resolution scheme
History of the TCO
When it was first established in 2004, the Tolling Customer Ombudsman scheme was established by CityLink. It was a process for an external party, the ombudsman, to review the outcomes of complaints made to CityLink. Over time, other toll road operators joined the TCO after seeing the value in an independent view of how complaints were being managed.
At the beginning, the scheme was a contractual arrangement which was not well understood by stakeholders. Limited information was made available about what the arrangements between industry and the ombudsman were. This gave rise to perceptions of bias and favouritism towards the industry.
A range of measures were put in place to try to address these concerns, including:
- publication of decisions made
- six monthly public reporting on issues and trends.
- a more informative website
- gaining recognition from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) as an external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme that met the OAIC Guidelines to handle and manage privacy-related complaints.
Despite these measures, and no evidence of actual bias or unfairness being provided to the Ombudsman, to courts/tribunals or to parliamentary inquiries, the perceptions have persisted over time.
To provide further assurances to stakeholders and the broader community, the TCO has been working towards membership of the Australia and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA), the peak body for Ombudsmen.
Since Mr Arnold’s retirement in June 2019, the former Deputy Ombudsman, Nicolas Crowhurst, has been the Interim Ombudsman. Mr Crowhurst has worked with consumer organisations, toll road operators, and state government agencies to continue improvements to the existing TCO services. At the same time, he has been developing the arrangements for the ongoing service model.
As membership of ANZOA is personal to the individual ombudsman, the retirement of Mr Michael Arnold as the Ombudsman has delayed an application for membership until an ongoing ombudsman can be appointed. However, the criteria for membership are that the scheme in which the ombudsman works should meet various benchmarks for industry-based EDR schemes.
Tolling Customer Ombudsman Limited
One of the criteria for ANZOA membership is that the applying ombudsman works within a scheme which has a separate entity set up formally to oversee the independence of the office’s operation.
TCO has established a public company, Tolling Customer Ombudsman Limited (TCOL), to do this. TCOL is governed by its Constitution and has a Board of Directors which oversees the company and ensures that adequate funding is provided by the toll road operators. The TCO scheme itself is detailed in Terms of Reference which clearly set out the jurisdiction and process of the TCO. The Terms of Reference were drafted in consultation with both consumer and industry stakeholders.
Combined with the application form (either the Membership Application Form for toll road operators or the Complaint Form for consumers) the Constitution and Terms of Reference will form a three-way contract between TCOL, the toll road operator and the consumer for how complaints will be handled.
The TCO website will announce when the transition between the interim and ongoing arrangements takes place.
The Board of Directors (Bios coming soon)
The Board is made up of an Independent Chair, a director with experience of consumer issues relating to tolling, and a director with experience of how the tolling industry operates. Due to the small size of the TCO operations, a three person board is considered adequate at this stage, but this may be revised in future.
None of the directors are employed by the toll road industry. By law, each director must act in the best interests of TCOL, not its stakeholders.
- Nicolas Crowhurst, Independent Chair
- Paul Holmes, Consumer Director
- Samantha Shaw, Industry Director
The Board of TCOL will shortly appoint a new ongoing ombudsman as a TCOL employee on a fixed term contract of 3 years. Over 40 applications were received. Five were shortlisted by an independent reviewer for interview by the Board.
Once appointed, the successful candidate will apply for membership of ANZOA at its Executive Committee meeting in February 2020. The Board is confident that the recent changes mean that the application will be successful.