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Govt throws extra $7.8m at business names register – but will it fix the problems?

Thursday, 16 May 2013 | By Michelle Hammond

A small business group is confident the additional $7.8 million allocated to the National Business Names Register in the 2013 federal budget will fix the problems businesses face with the regime, after the opposition voiced its concern.


As part of the 2013 federal budget, the federal government will provide an additional $7.8 million over two years to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.


The added funding is designed to improve ASIC’s client contact centre service levels to support the introduction of the online National Business Names registration system.


In May 2012, ASIC assumed responsibility for the administration of the National Business Names Register, which replaced state and territory-based registers.


Responsibility for the register represents a significant increase in ASIC’s workload, especially with respect to the number of people accessing ASIC’s client contact centre.


According to the government, there have been more than one million phone enquiries and 120,000 written enquiries since the launch of the register.


“By providing this extra funding to ASIC, the government will be ensuring that ASIC is able to be contacted by the public in a quick and efficient manner,” Bernie Ripoll, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, said in a statement.


“This funding will improve ASIC’s client contact centre capabilities and allow ASIC to improve the quality of service that it provides.”


The cost of the additional funding will be offset by an increase in the base fees charged by ASIC for registering a business name – an increase of $2 for one-year registrations (currently $30) and $4 for three-year registrations (currently $70).


According to shadow small business minister Bruce Billson, the government allocated more than $150 million to the National Business Names Register in the 2010-11 federal budget.


But because of its poor implementation, the government has been forced to throw additional funding at the scheme to fix a number of problems, says Billson.


“The Coalition alerted the government to problems with the register 10 months ago but nothing was done to fix the problems,” Billson says.


“For months and months we’ve had small business owners, solicitors and accountants contacting us complaining that the implementation of the new system has been completely botched.


“The problems have put business sales and transfers in doubt while the private details of home-based businesses have been made publically available in a massive privacy breach.


“The situation got so bad that people that have been forced to wait on hold with ASIC for more than 45 minutes at a time while others have had to make repeated registration attempts over two months to achieve an outcome that used to take minutes.”


Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, is confident the additional funding will fix the various problems.


“It was good we got the money – Bruce is right to complain,” Strong says.


“The helpline, without a doubt, [needs additional funding]. Bruce is spot on there – there’s just no helpline.


“Every time of day the lines are so long. It comes back to funding and staff. That $7.8 million in funding should mean you get on pretty quick; a five-minute wait time at the longest.


“We’re also very concerned about the privacy of home-based businesses. ASIC said… you will be able to use a PO box. If someone goes to ASIC and says, ‘I want to use a PO box’, they will get permission to do so, which is really good news.”


But Billson is less convinced, saying the funding is “not alone” sufficient to fix the problems associated with the register because the bulk of it will be spent on hiring additional staff, as opposed to improving the system.