The Australian Financial Complaints Authority has found that the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) must refund a First Nations woman her premiums paid on a funeral insurance plan branded to target Aboriginal people.
It is the latest development in the controversy surrounding the ACBF, that has since re-branded as Youpla Pty Ltd, after being heavily scrutinised by the royal commission into banking.
In two separate determinations, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority - a financial dispute resolution scheme - found that ACBF misrepresented itself as an Aboriginal owned and controlled, not-for-profit, community organisation serving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
A determination noted the funeral insurer deceived a First Nations woman to wrongfully believe the funeral plan was controlled by and sold for the benefit of the Aboriginal Community, and must refund more than $2,000 in payments.
According to the authority, the complainant wouldn't have entered into the scheme had she known ACBF was a private, non-Aboriginal organisation and the premiums would likely exceed the benefits paid.
There are currently seven other pending cases against companies in the Youpla group, with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service intending to file further complaints with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
Yorta Yorta woman and Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Chief Executive Officer, Nerita Waight, welcomed the determination to award compensation, but said further work is needed to address financial exploitation in Aboriginal communities.
"The findings of the royal commission painted a rather bleak picture regarding the treatment of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the financial services system,” Ms Waight said in a statement.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are often highly vulnerable to exploitation due to social and economic disadvantages and lower levels of financial literacy, due to the lack of financial services providers offering culturally safe financial service products.”
In their defence, the Youpla group denied the allegations and said the Funeral Plan was not subject to the rules as it is not a financial service.
Targeting Aboriginal consumers
The Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) has a reputation for aggressively selling almost exclusively to Indigenous people, including children, and falsely presenting itself as an Indigenous corporation.
The Gold Coast-based private business previously deducted money from Centrelink payments before people received them – an activity which has since been made illegal – and denied payouts for suicides.
With sorry business being a significant cultural practice for Aboriginal people, the banking royal commission heard multiple instances of funeral insurance companies engaging in "predatory" behaviour.
The royal commission heard that more than half of its 13,500 funeral plan holders were aged under 25. The majority were under 18 and signed up by their families.
The company continued to directly target Aboriginal customers – and even gave away toys with its branding to children at a Koori Knockout rugby tournament.
Youpla changed ownership in 2019, with Worimi man Isaac Simon purchasing a 50 per cent stake in the company.