Thoughtful communication is key when issues arise: Retirement villages bulletin 8

This publication is for: 
Retirement village owner / operator

29 January 2020

Thoughtful communication is key when issues arise 

Living in a retirement village necessarily involves residents living in close quarters and sharing facilities, which can result in complex issues arising between residents, and also between residents and village administration.

In this bulletin we highlight key concepts of dispute resolution in the retirement village context. Use this information to review the internal dispute resolution process in your village and ensure your staff are properly trained. 

Be proactive

Village managers are encouraged to promote a supportive workplace that cultivates compassionate, resilient, confident staff who are well-prepared to handle issues and have difficult conversations with residents. You may consider offering staff dispute resolution and non-violent communication training to teach them how to be an effective communicator with your residents, without being aggressive. 

Remind staff that poor communication, whether through a lack of information, a misunderstanding or a communication breakdown, is often at the heart of disputes. Open and respectful communication is the key to dispute resolution:

  • Identify and clarify issues. Ask open-ended questions to prompt the sharing of information and feelings that might be behind an emotional reaction;
  • Listen attentively. Focus your attention on the person speaking rather than anticipating or planning your response. Attempt to understand their point of view;
  • Look for the need, not a solution. Explore the desired outcome for each party and what may happen if that outcome isn’t achieved. This can reveal the need that isn’t being met; 
  • Maintain control of the process. Suggest alternatives and encourage compromise;
  • Attack the problem, not the person. Don’t take things personally. Resolution can only come through understanding and changing the situation, not attempting to change the other person; and
  • Consider your role. It takes two people to maintain a conflict. How are you contributing to it? 

You may also wish to craft helpful guidelines for personal disputes, share them with the residents’ committee and post them in a common use area.  Our Dispute resolution guidelines for retirement village residents is a great tool to share.

Informal process to resolve issues

Ideally any disputes that arise ought to be resolved informally, by your team. When working through an issue with residents, remain impartial, patient and understanding. 

When issues arise between residents, encourage and empower them to resolve the issue themselves through mutual respect and in a spirit of conciliation.

Remind residents they can discuss the issue with a trusted friend or advocate, such as a member of the residents’ committee or the Western Australia Retirement Villages Residents Association (WARVRA). 

Issues related to village staff or administration

As above, remind residents they can discuss the issue with a trusted friend or advocate. Suggest they consult the residents’ committee as an option. Recommend residents deal with issues quickly as delays may create an opportunity for issues to brew or escalate.

If informal processes don't work

If a problem cannot be resolved informally, the next step is to follow the formal village dispute resolution process as outlined in the Fair Trading (Retirement Villages Code) Regulations 2022 (WA) (RV code).

Continue to maintain an open, respectful and consultative approach to residents involved in the dispute. Listen to their concerns with patience and try to understand their point of view.

Ensure that all residents have a copy of your retirement village’s in-house formal dispute process. Suggest to the residents’ committee that they periodically review the process and discuss with you ways to informally resolve issues before they escalate to that stage.

As a reminder, any costs incurred by the village administration through dealing with the complaint through the in-house formal dispute process cannot be shared with or passed along to the resident; or residents generally. 

If the formal village dispute resolution process doesn’t work and the dispute is between a resident or group of residents and village management, Consumer Protection can offer a conciliation service to residents to assist them in attempting to resolve the matter. Consumer Protection expects that residents and village administration have utilised the above internal processes in the first instance.  

To access Consumer Protection’s service, residents’ committees and individual residents will need to lodge a formal complaint online. Complaints can also be submitted in person or by post by downloading a complaint form, completing it, and submitting the form together with copies of supporting information to Consumer Protection.

If, given all the circumstances, Consumer Protection considers the matter is sufficiently serious to warrant more formal mediation, the Commissioner for Consumer Protection may formally refer the matter to an independent external mediator. Unless the Commissioner decides otherwise, costs associated with Commissioner-appointed mediation will be shared equally between each person in the dispute.

Resources at a glance

Guidelines for retirement village dispute resolution – Consumer Protection guidelines for both retirement village managers and residents.

Complaint handling procedures: Retirement Villages and WARVRA  - Consumer Protection quick reference guide.

WARVRA Information Paper no. 5 – Disputes and Complaints – guide to handling disputes and complaints in retirement villages

Fair Trading (Retirement Villages Code) Regulations 2022 (WA) (RV code)

Retirement Villages Act 1992

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Contact Consumer Protection by calling 1300 304 054 or by email

Consumer Protection
Last updated 01 Apr 2022

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