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First Nations victims of a bankrupt funeral insurer to get relief

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The Federal Government is compensating those who lost money to the bankrupt funeral insurance provider, many of whom were First Nations people.
Funeral insurance provider targeted First Nations people.

First Nations victims of a bankrupt funeral insurance provider will receive compensation from the Federal Government.

Youpla, also known as the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund, marketed itself as an Aboriginal-owned and managed funeral insurer.

Its 2022 collapse left more than 13,000 people out of pocket, including some who’d been paying off funeral bills with Centrelink payments.

Youpla

Youpla became a registered company in 1992 before it launched The Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities were among the thousands of ACBF customers. Some made frequent contributions to their insurance plan over several years.

The Redfern Legal Centre said Youpla “actively preyed” on the culturally significant practice of ‘Sorry Business’, the mourning period in First Nations communities.

Marketing

Australia’s corporate watchdog, ASIC, accused Youpla of marketing itself as a First Nations-owned and operated funeral insurer in a Federal Court case.

The insurer had used imagery, logos, and colours associated with First Nations communities, and used the word “Aboriginal” in its title. In 2018, the company added the disclaimer: “We are not an Aboriginal company”.

The court fined Youpla $1.2 million, but ultimately did not find the company had misled customers to believe it was Aboriginal-owned.

Centrepay

Centrelink recipients can opt to pay regular bills such as rent or electricity through an automated service called “Centrepay”.

In 2001, Centrepay could be used for direct payments to Youpla. These automated deductions became the company’s preferred payment method.

The government has not released data on how much money Youpla received from the Centrelink deductions.

Collapse

In 2022, all companies associated with Youpla collapsed. As a result, anyone who had made financial contributions towards a funeral insurance plan lost their money.

The Save Sorry Business Coalition – a group of First Nations community advocates – accused the company of exploiting customers.

In an open letter to then-Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, the group said the company had signed up vulnerable people, including children, via door-to-door sales.

Interim plan

Several months after Youpla’s collapse, the Federal Government set up interim payments for anyone left out-of-pocket from the funeral insurer.

The grants were designed to cover immediate funeral expenses for affected families while the government investigated other compensation options.

These payments will wrap up on 30 June. Instead of the temporary grants, the government has announced a new compensation program from 1 July.

Compensation

Under the government’s plan, eligible Youpla customers will be offered two choices for compensation.

They can either apply for a cash payment, or a government-protected funeral bond (financial compensation that will be set aside, and accessed in the event of a death).

Free financial counselling will also be offered to impacted First Nations people to consider their options.

Response

Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said she hoped the funds will bring “peace of mind” to affected families.

The Save Sorry Business Coalition has welcomed the funding program.

It said the compensation plan recognises the “targeted exploitation of First Nations people” and will help reduce financial hardships suffered.

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