Unprecedented demand for help to resolve Victorian small business disputes
Over 19,000 enquiries were made to the Victorian Small Business Commission (VSBC) in 2020–21, overwhelmingly from small business tenants and their landlords feeling the ongoing strain of COVID-19 and restrictions to trade.
There was an 85 per cent hike in applications for help to resolve a dispute compared with the previous year, with a staggering 5,175 received.
The vast majority were to resolve rent relief disputes under the Victorian Government’s Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme. This included situations where a tenant had stopped paying rent or where a landlord refused to come to the table with negotiations.
Other disputes included retail leasing disagreements over who should foot the bill for outgoings or repairs and maintenance. Victorians also sought help to resolve general small business disputes including situations where supplier invoices were left unpaid or goods and services were not provided.
More than a third of all matters were resolved early on, often by phone. Where this wasn’t possible, the VSBC moved the matter on to mediation, where an impartial mediator guided parties in resolving their dispute.
All mediation costs were waived when it came rent relief disputes – including where the tenant wasn’t eligible for the Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme.
Commissioner Lynda McAlary-Smith said the VSBC significantly ramped up efforts to address small business needs in response to exceptionally stressful circumstances.
“There has never been a greater need for small business people to understand their rights and obligations and to know how to get support if they need it – be it guidance on rent relief in their language or help in looking after their mental wellbeing,” Commissioner McAlary-Smith said.
This is why the VSBC:
- shared frequent, timely, plain English guidance on rent relief via workshops, webinars and their website
- promoted translated information on how to ask for rent relief to culturally diverse business and community leaders
- encouraged small business owners who were feeling stressed or anxious to access free mental health and financial counselling.
Learn more about the VSBC’s small business supports and what the data shows.