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Setting up a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) such as a nursing school or first aid training centre can be a rewarding and profitable business. However, it is crucial to understand the regulations that you need to comply with. Over the last few years, the government has toughened its regulation of RTOs, leading to fewer successful applications. This article will explain the steps you can take to ensure you are complying with the necessary standards when applying for RTO registration and what you can do if the Australian Skills Quality Authority refuses your application.

What is the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)?

The Australian Skills Quality Authority is the body responsible for regulating the private education and training sector. Its primary functions are to:

  • oversee the entry of RTOs into the market;
  • accredit courses;
  • carry out compliance audits; and
  • penalise non-compliance including cancelling the registration of poor providers.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of scandals within the private education and training sector, resulting in a crackdown by ASQA on RTOs. Although this has been effective at catching out unethical operators, it has also meant that responsible RTOs are subject to more rigorous requirements. The ASQA now primarily acts as a disciplinary body in the sector. Therefore, it is critical that you are aware of the regulations and procedures you need to follow when applying.

Setting Up a Registered Training Authority

Most businesses seeking to be registered as an RTO engage external consultants as it is a complex process. When reviewing applications, ASQA will look at your:

  • course materials;
  • standards; and
  • Financial Viability Risk Assessment and Business Plan.

In the past, the regulator did not review the risk assessment and business plan in detail. However, since July 2018, ASQA:

  • reviews more extensive data about your financial viability;
  • asks for greater disclosure on the backgrounds of people associated with the organisation;
  • asks you to complete a comprehensive self-assessment to ensure you are ready to deliver training and submit evidence to support compliance;
  • does not give you an opportunity to correct any areas where you are not complying before it makes a decision on the application;
  • does not allow you to make changes to a submitted application; and
  • generally requires you to be registered for a two-year period.

If you engage an external consultant, they should be aware of these standards and should not be using outdated application templates.

Be Aware of Any Delays

Once you have submitted your application for RTO registration, you should take note of any delays in ASQA’s decision making. If you have put significant time and money into building your RTO business, any excessive delay may put your plans back months or years. The ASQA often outsources the evaluation of RTO applications to third-party contractors. You can contact ASQA and explain that your application is urgent. This may help your application increase in priority.

What You Can Do If Your Application is Refused

Even if you submit your application in good faith with the help of an external consultant, your application may still be refused. The ASQA’s statistics suggest one in four applications are refused. If this is the case, there are a number of steps you can take.

1. Apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)

If your application is refused, you will likely not be able to seek a review of the decision from ASQA. However, you can appeal the decision to the AAT. Under the AAT rules, you can only apply to the AAT within 28 days of the decision. This 28 day period includes weekends. If you miss this deadline, you will need ASQA’s approval to appeal the decision which is in ASQA’s discretion and they may refuse. If you need more time, it may be advisable to ask for the decision to be reconsidered by ASQA. Even if ASQA responds and refuses to do so, this may restart the 28 day deadline to apply to the AAT. Regardless, it is important to seek a review as quickly as possible.

2.  Use the Correct Application Form

If you decide to appeal the decision through the AAT, you need to ensure you are applying with the correct form. You can find this form here. You will need to apply using the ‘Application for Review of Decision’ document. If you use the wrong form and it is refused, you may not have enough time within the deadline to reapply.

The application to the AAT does not need to be perfect. You can add further details using an affidavit later in the appeal process. It is more important to ensure you file the application within the deadline.

3. Take an Early Settlement

ASQA may reach out to you to negotiate an early settlement. This will generally involve you agreeing to correct mistakes in your application for RTO registration. It is generally not a good idea to insist that the application is perfect and does not need further work. You will be dealing with ASQA after you are registered so insisting that ASQA’s decision was wrong if they reach out with a potential settlement is not in your long term interests, even if you consider the ‘mistakes’ ASQA has identified were trivial or not mistakes at all.  

4. Engage a Lawyer

If ASQA does not reach out to you for an early settlement, then you may need to engage a lawyer to help draft the affidavit evidence that you need to submit as well as a formal response. After you have submitted the AAT application, ASQA has a legal obligation to provide a detailed explanation of its decision. This will help you get a more complete picture of the claims. It is a good idea to obtain legal advice on the next steps at this point to see if you can reach out to ASQA and negotiate an early settlement. If not, you will need to proceed to a hearing with the AAT which could take many months. Therefore, it is to your advantage if you can negotiate an early settlement with ASQA if your application was strong but there were some minor defects.

5. Seek a Partial Refund

If you had a poor application for RTO registration, you need to carefully consider your strategy. The application fees for an RTO registration application are high ($8800 at the time of writing) but appeals to the AAT can be expensive if experts and lawyers are needed at the hearing. It may be a good idea to try to obtain a partial refund on the application fee and simply correct the errors so you can submit it again.   

Key Takeaways

If you are applying to be registered as an RTO, there are a number of key standards you need to meet. The body responsible for approving your application, ASQA, will consider your course materials, standards and the financial viability of your business. However, if ASQA refuses your application, you should:

  • consider applying to the AAT;
  • try to negotiate an early settlement; or
  • seek a partial refund of the application and apply again.

If you need help applying for RTO registration or your application has been rejected by ASQA and you need assistance appealing it, you can contact LegalVision’s RTO lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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