Complaining to the ACT Human Rights Commission

Contributed by Elizabeth Samra and Karen Toohey. Current to December 2021.

Complaints about vulnerable adults

From 30 March 2020 the ACT Human Rights Commission (“Commission”) can receive complaints about the treatment of vulnerable people if the complainant believes the vulnerable person is subject to, or at risk of, abuse, neglect, or exploitation.[1]

Section 41(B)(2) of the Human Rights Commission Act 2005 defines a vulnerable person as an adult who:

a) has a disability within the meaning of the Disability Services Act 1991; or

b) is at least 60 years old and –

i. has a disorder, illness or disease that affects the person’s though processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement or otherwise results in disturbed behaviour; or

ii. has an impairment that is intellectual, psychiatric, sensory or physical in nature and results in a substantially reduced capacity of the person for communication, learning or mobility; or

iii. for any other reason is socially isolated or unable to participate in the life of the person’s community.

Who can complain?

A complaint can be made to the Commission by the vulnerable person, a carer, friend, family member, service provider or anyone concerned about the vulnerable person.

Complaints or concerns can be raised with the Commission on an anonymous basis and in these circumstances the Commission may, on its own initiative, consider the complaint as a commission-initiated consideration or own motion complaint.[2]

In some situations, the Commission might deal with the complaint as a systemic matter where there are concerns that a service provider or an organisation’s practices are contributing to abuse, neglect, or exploitation of vulnerable people.

To remove any doubt, vulnerable person complaints to the Commission are not mandatory.

Dealing with vulnerable person complaints

If a vulnerable person complaint is made to the Commission by a person other than the vulnerable person, before the Commission tells the person complained about in writing that it is considering the complaint, or before referring a complaint to a statutory office holder, the Commission must obtain the consent of the vulnerable person the subject of the complaint.[3]

However, consent is not required if the vulnerable person is not capable of giving consent (even with appropriate support), or if it is not appropriate to obtain consent because of the seriousness of the complaint or the risk to the personal safety of the vulnerable person.[4]

The Commission can deal with vulnerable person complaints in several ways. The Commission’s intention is always to improve the safety of the adult and uphold their rights.

The Commission can talk through options for trying to resolve the concerns informally. This might include referral to advocacy services or legal advice, the Public Advocate, or helping complainants liaise with service providers.

The Commission may also investigate the issues raised and try to resolve the complaint through conciliation, or where the Commission cannot resolve a complaint, it might publish a report and make recommendations to improve service provision or address any abuse, exploitation or neglect issues identified.

Depending on the nature of the concerns raised, the Commission may also share information, or part of it, to another agency or service like the ACT Ombudsman, the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commission, the Senior Practitioner or the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

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