By Geoff Browne Victorian Small Business Commissioner
For small businesses starting up or in their early years, the last thing you want is to get caught up in a serious contractual dispute. Unfortunately, in Victoria more than 20,000 small businesses face that prospect every year.
Commercial disputes that drag on can end up costing a lot of time, money and emotion, and can distract you from focusing on your business.
The good news
The good news is that there is a service available that can assist in preventing disputes arising in the first place, or help resolve the dispute quickly, effectively and at low cost if it arises.
The Victorian Small Business Commissioner (VSBC) is an independent role established by the Victorian Government in 2003. The VSBCs aim is to achieve a fair and competitive operating environment for Victoria’s small business operators.
The predominant activity of the VSBC is providing a dispute resolution service for business disputes, outside of the civil justice system.
Under the guidance of Small Business Commissioner Geoff Browne the office has three core activities:
- information and education programs to promote informed decision making by small business to help minimise disputes
- preliminary assistance (at no cost) to resolve disputes prior to formal mediation
- timely, low cost ($195 per party per session) resolution of disputes by mediation.
Around 25% of applications for assistance with a dispute are resolved through preliminary assistance – at no cost to either party. Of matters that progress to mediation, a settlement rate of around 80 per cent has been achieved over the past ten years.
The VSBC can help you
The VSBC can assist with any type of commercial dispute. This includes disputes relating to franchises, supply chain, licensing agreements, leases, distribution agreements, and so on. Some disputes must by law first go to the VSBC before they can access the civil justice system. This includes Retail Lease disputes and Owner Driver disputes.
In 2012-13, the VSBC will receive around 1,700 applications for assistance and conduct around 800 mediations. Customer satisfaction with the mediation service is 92% – from both the applicant business and the respondent business.
For further information about the VSBC, mediation, or to view case studies, visit www.vsbc.vic.gov.au or ring 13 VSBC (13 8722).