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Case studies

Our Assistance Team works with a broad range of businesses to provide one-to-one assistance regarding business disputes, including referral to government support and arranging alternative dispute resolution. This includes disputes concerning Commonwealth departments, national companies, interstate and international trade, insurance, banking, telecommunications, intellectual property and others.

Verbal contract resolved

When a small business owner registered an online inquiry, the online entity responded with a phone call. The small business owner was told she had to agree to buy the product she had enquired about on the spot, to avoid the offer being withdrawn.

The small business owner verbally agreed to the contract, for which she received a quote for several hundred dollars per month. On the same day, after discussing it with her business partner, she attempted to terminate the service via telephone conversation and email.

Despite the same day cancellation, the small business owner was told that when signing up to a contract over the phone, there was no ‘cooling off’ period.

Our Assistance Team identified in the terms and conditions of the contract that the purchaser was able terminate the contract by giving the supplier 14 days’ written notice. Given the small business owner cancelled the contract within hours of verbally agreeing to it, the contract was able to be terminated without charge.

The small business owner was thankful for the help saying:

“I’d like to say that I’ve been really impressed by your services and I’m grateful that your company exists to help out the small businesses of Australia.”

Newspaper advertising overpayment resolved

A small business owner placed an advertisement in a local paper. The initial paperwork was the only form of invoice provided (as noted in the contract). The contract was for an initial period, but in smaller print, the advertiser was required to give four weeks’ notice to stop advertising.

The charge was taken from the business owners’ bank account via a pay system that did not identify the media outlet, but rather the pay system. The small business owner also used this same payment system for her security alarm.

Three years later the small business owner’s accountant suggested she was paying too much money for her security alarm and she started investigations.

She discovered she was still under contract to the local paper, even though she had never received any invoices or contract renewals. She contacted the outlet, but by this stage the business had changed hands. The new business owners had been given a list of all the people under contract, but had made no contact with them either.

Our Assistance Team was able to help the business owner reach a resolution where the local paper paid back a large proportion of the monies paid since the end of the initial advertising period.

Agreement reached over business name

A small business franchisor trademarked his business name. He then found that another business had opened in the same industry and was operating under the same name.

The other business had registered the business name with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and did not understand why they could not use the name.

Before contacting our Assistance Team, both parties had sought legal advice, but had not reached a resolution.

Our Assistance Team approached the business owner and explained that registering a business name with ASIC did not give a business ownership of a name.

Our Assistance Team explained that trademarking a name or logo was the only way to get intellectual property rights over that name.

A resolution was reached when the business owner agreed to change his business name to one that was acceptable to both parties.

Advertising contract refunded

A small business owner was contacted by an advertising company about an advertising opportunity.

During the phone call, the small business owner requested time to consider the advertising cost ($5,500) before agreeing. She was told the offer was only valid during that phone call and she needed to agree on the spot.

The small business owner reluctantly agreed and provided her business logo and pictures as requested. The advertising company guaranteed a draft of the advertisement would be sent for review within four business days.

When the draft wasn’t received by the agreed date, the small business owner requested her contract be cancelled. This request was denied as it fell outside the ‘cooling off period’ offered by the company.

As a result of the delays experienced by the small business owner, and the subsequent breakdown of the relationship between the parties, a full refund of $5,500 was requested.

Our Assistance Team was able to negotiate changes to the advertisement that satisfied both the small business owner and the advertising company. The parties are now working on finalising the advertising.

Both parties expressed their gratitude for the intervention by our Assistance Team.

Outstanding invoice waived

A small business owner lodged a dispute with a company about a three month social media campaign contract.

At the end of the contract period, the contract auto-renewed, leaving him with an outstanding invoice for $786 for a fourth month he did not agree to.

The small business owner found it very difficult to contact the company directly to resolve the issue as all communication was through offshore call centres, and none of the emails had contact names or phone numbers attached.

Each time the small business owner contacted the company, he would have to explain his issue over again as previous conversations were not recorded.

After disputing the invoice for eight months and continually receiving invoice and debt collection notices, the small business owner turned to our Assistance Team for help.

Our Assistance Team contacted the company and they agreed to waive the outstanding invoice.

The small business owner said: “A sincere thank you to the Small Business Ombudsman for the time and effort taken to help our business.”

Government decision overturned

A small business reached out to our Assistance Team after a decision by a government department affected how this business could engage contractors.

Our Assistance Team contacted the government department which agreed to overturn the decision.

The director of the business says “Now we can continue to contract to these contractors, which is a big relief to them and us - especially during this time of year before Christmas and all the big end of year household bills. We’re very thankful for your input ASBFEO!”

Commission payments made

Our Assistance Team received a request for assistance from a business regarding their contract with another business.

The complainant advised they were not receiving commission payments owing under the contract in place between the parties.

The complainant had been denied payment due to an issue around incorrect paperwork and docket sales.

On review of the contract, the Assistance Team was able to identify that the contract between the parties only allowed for payments to be deferred, and did not stipulate that payments could be withheld due to administrative issues.

The Assistance Team wrote to the business to seek feedback. Although the business did not respond directly, it began making payments as per the contract.

The complainant was thankful for the assistance.

Advertising and website contract resolved

A small business owner wanted to increase her business’ online presence. She approached a digital agency and admitted she knew nothing about the online world and asked for help.

The agency sold her advertising designed to increase her business’ presence, as well as the building of her business website, but did not provide sufficient explanation of the services.

The small business owner signed a contract for the website build, but became disenchanted with the digital company, particularly once she understood there would be additional website hosting costs and other charges.

The small business owner tried to terminate the contract, but was unable as she had signed the agreement.

Our Assistance Team contacted the digital agency and provided them with a greater understanding of their client’s situation. The agency agreed to either waive the additional hosting charges or terminate the contract with no further costs.

The small business owner chose to terminate the contract with no further costs and the issue was resolved.

Franchise reinstated

A thriving small business was approached by the state leaders of an internationally recognised dealership with an offer of working exclusively with them.

The small business owner saw this as a great opportunity and accepted the offer, and within a year, it became one of the most successful franchises in the state.

However, given intense competition in the industry, there were a variety of factors that led to the early termination of the franchise, and an unsuccessful mediation was held between the parties.

Our Assistance Team arranged a case appraisal and conciliation that resolved the matter and reinstated the franchise.

Contract terminated without penalty

Following a cold call, a small business owner signed a six month contract with an IT services provider for advertising, search engine optimisation and a new website.

The small business owner was unhappy with the level of service provided as they were writing their own website content and the advertising had only resulted in a marginal increase in business.

The small business owner attempted to resolve the matter directly with the company, but there was no improvement to the service, so they sought to terminate the contract.

The company refused to terminate the contract without early termination fees and a pay-out of the remainder of the contract.

The small business owner then contacted our Assistance Team for help.

Our Assistance Team had previously negotiated with the IT company to have a designated contact officer to deal with disputes. As a result of this arrangement and their enquiries, the contract was terminated without any further fees to pay, saving the small business owner around $5,000.

Clothing company paid

A small business owner who ran a clothing company overseas was underpaid around AUD $7,000 by an Australian-based business.

Following involvement by our Assistance Team, the company started to make the payments, the first being roughly AUD $500.

The small business owner thanked our Assistance Team for their involvement.

Advertising account re-activated

A small business owner reached out to our Assistance Team following the de-activation of an advertising campaign.

The advertising company claimed the client breached the terms and conditions of the contract, but didn’t provide any information.

The small business owner attempted to reach out to the advertising company via their help page online, but received unhelpful automated email responses.

Our Assistance Team contacted the advertising company and the account was re-activated.

The client said she’s ‘very grateful that I can now advertise again and provide career counselling services to those who need it’.

Termination fee waived

A small business owner engaged the services of an IT provider.

When she realised the IT provider wasn’t able to effectively fulfil the required services, she attempted to cancel her contract, but was told she would be charged the remainder of the contract fees.

This IT service provider has not previously allowed the cancellation of contracts without a termination fee in such circumstances.

This time, after prolonged negotiation, they released the small business owner from her contract without any additional charges, saving her a total of $8,000.

Resolution reached following mediation

A property developer signed an agreement with a telecommunications company to relocate a telecommunications pit (used as a distribution point for phone cabling), at the developer’s own cost.

The property developer signed the contract to avoid delaying the development. The developer later attempted to contact the telecommunications company to understand why he was required to pay for the shift of the pit when it was not necessary for his development, but in discussions was unable to resolve the issue.

The property developer was then invoiced $33,000 for movement of the pit.

Our Assistance Team attempted to help the parties resolve the matter, which resulted in the Ombudsman recommending mediation.

Our Assistance Team was informed that mediation was successful and a commercial resolution was reached.

Successful negotiation with leasing agent

Our Assistance Team received a request for help from a small business owner running a food outlet in a shopping centre.

He had been significantly affected by the landlord’s decision to position a national franchise selling similar products immediately next to his business.

As a result, his sales fell significantly and he found his shop was no longer viable.

In addition, he had extra cleaning charges under his lease that he believed to be unfair.

Following our intervention, the leasing agent contacted the small business owner and negotiated a lower rent and waived the additional cleaning charge.

Shopping centre agrees to pay fit-out cost

A small business signed a commercial lease and fit-out deed with a shopping centre.

When the small business owner submitted an invoice for the $70,000 fit out cost to the shopping centre, the centre advised it would no longer pay that amount, instead offering $40,000.

The Assistance Team contacted centre management at the shopping centre and it agreed to pay the $70,000, which enabled the small business owner to pay the sub-contractors she engaged to complete the fit-out.

Contractor receives outstanding payments

A contractor working through a recruitment agency was owed $29,000 in outstanding invoices from a government department.

The contractor contacted our Assistance Team who was able to help the parties resolve the issue with the contractor receiving the full amount owing to him.

Full refund received for unwanted advertising

A small business owner had an advertising app on his phone that had not been active for over a year.

When the small business owner bought a new phone, the advertising account was inadvertently activated, and he received a bill for over $1,000 for the month.

He deactivated the account, but again received another bill for nearly $2,000.

The small business owner contacted the advertising company a number of times to attempt to resolve the issue but was unsuccessful.

Our Assistance Team contacted the company about the issue and the small business owner received a full refund for the charges.

The small business owner was very grateful for our assistance saying, ‘That is fantastic news! I can’t thank you enough for working on our behalf for this resolution. We would never have been able to get anywhere without your help. Thank you so much.’