You are a registered migration agent and have been practicing for over 10 years. For the first seven years, you worked during the evening because you decided to keep your fulltime job until you grew your business. You could generally only assist with one client per month, as that is the amount of time you could allocate because your daytim e job was very demanding and you had family commitments which increased as the years went by. You always made sure to complete your CPD requirements and you maintained your registration every year, as you knew deep down you wanted to practice as a registered migration agent full time. You were always subconsciously frustrated as you felt that if you had more time to invest, you would really be able to expand your business and take your practice to the next level.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a lot of things changed in the world. One major impact was that you lost your day job. At first, given the financial impact this would have on you and your family, you were quite devastated. However, one night whilst pondering your options, your partner inspired you to pivot your mindset and look at the situation as an opportunity to really invest the proper time into your migration agency business. You accepted the challenge and the very next day you started reinvigorating your website. You used an ‘off the shelf’ predetermined template you purchased online. As your funds were limited, you chose the cheaper, base level version. When you were building the website, you realised that the version you purchased was limited in what functions it had and what you could put on the home page, but you thought that initially, just having your picture, name, mobile phone number and a little bit of information about yourself, together with an inquiry form option would suffice. In addition to this, you also started promoting yourself on different social media platforms. To expand your network, you also started reaching out to your current and previous clients letting them know that you were taking on more clients and that you would pay them a referral fee should they refer any clients your way. At the start, things were a bit slow and then suddenly, with all the changes the Department of Home Affairs were implementing as a result of the impact of COVID- 19, the inquiries started rolling in.
You were thrilled that you were finally able to really focus on being a registered migration agent. However, you found that with more client casework, you were not able to focus on the business side of things and did not give the same attention to detail as you did previously. As your business continued to grow exponentially, you were not able to keep up with the changes as frequently as you used to. You notice that you did not have much physical space to store files and because you had begun your practice with hard copy files, you continued this practice. Having used up all of the space available in your private home office, you decide to throw out and dispose of any successful files, as, in your view, you thought that if it was a successful case, the client would never come back and ask for a copy of it. During all of this, the new code of conduct was also implemented. You read the code, but as you are so busy now, you do not look at it in detail and appropriately apply the code to your current business practices. In your mind, you are comfortable with this as you feel that as long as you apply yourself against any code of conduct, that would be fair to your clients.
With the increase in clients and having back-to-back appointments, you begin to only file note your conversations with each client at the end of the week and not during or after each appointment. With your new clients, given time constraints, you do not provide them with the code of conduct when you first meet them and only send them a link to the consumer guide in your initial e-mail, together with a service agreement for the initial consultation. This is the only agreement you provide them throughout the process.
During COVID-19, you also found clients’ relationships were more likely to break down and since have seen an increase in relationship breakdowns among some of your clients. Given you did not want to disappoint either party, to keep both clients happy and so you did not lose the clients, you decide to separate their files and continue to assist them both simultaneously. When you find that their information may affect each other, you would let the other client know and try to mediate to find the best outcome for the situation. Sometimes, you find this works and sometimes you find the clients become very angry. When the clients became very angry, you terminate working for the client who complains the most out of the two and keep the other one as a client. You do provide clients a list of other recommended migration agents they can use if you terminate your services.
In relation to your financial accounts, you rely on and entrust your bookkeeper to ensure you keep on top of your financial obligations. You do not check the invoices and receipts that are sent to clients and you refer any queries to your bookkeeper, which has worked well in the past.
In light of these facts, what are your obligations, if any, under the Migration (Migration Agents Code of Conduct) Regulations 2021 and what steps would you implement to meet your obligations?
You must support your answers by reference to the specific legislative provisions.
(10 marks) (Maximum Word Limit: 1100 words)