• An open letter has been sent to the federal government asking for compensation for Aboriginal families left out of pocket by Youpla. (Youpla)Source: Youpla
The funeral insurer has targeted vulnerable Indigenous communities and has already been found guilty of negligence.
By
Douglas Smith

Source:
NITV News
17 May 2021 - 3:12 PM  UPDATED 17 May 2021 - 3:18 PM

A financial counsellor in WA says she is currently working with more than 25 clients attempting to regain monies paid to a funeral insurer that has targeted vulnerable Indigenous communities. 

Youpla, formerly known as the Aboriginal Community Benefits Fund (ACBF) has mainly been operating on the east coast of Australia, but was recently forced by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to refund an Aboriginal woman in WA $8000 for misleading her. 

Financial counsellor for Broome Circle, Veronica Johnson told NITV News that the woman is only one of many clients she represents, who are trying to cancel their policies and get their money refunded.

She also said more and more people were coming to her with complaints about Youpla, and suspected there were still many clients unaware of the funeral insurer's widespread misconduct. 

“We started getting more and more clients coming forward with complaints in regards to the funeral plans,” said Ms Johnson.

“There were complaints to start off with for people who had been paying for years, and they went to apply to get their benefits and suddenly there were all these barriers put in place.

“There was also a real lack of understanding from a lot of their clients.”

Insurer accused of ripping off Indigenous families changes name
Aboriginal consumers were disproportionately affected because of the cultural significance of "sorry business".

In some cases, Ms Johnson said the company had led many of her clients to believe they were an Aboriginal-owned and run company when they operated under the name ACBF, which they were not at the time.  

In October last year, Youpla was found guilty by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority of failing to meet the required standards of education when signing up clients.

Michelle Rex, an Aboriginal woman from the remote community of Djarindjin about two hours north of Broome, signed up in 2007 following a door-knock by ACBF representatives.

She had been paying fortnightly premiums for over ten years until she was made aware that the fund was not a savings plan as she had been led to believe.

“Knowing they was Aboriginals, I felt I trusted them 100%,” said Ms Rex.

Ms Rex paid Youpla an estimated $8000 until she defaulted on three payments due to financial stress, and was told by the company that her policy had been cancelled and she would receive no refund.

“(A Youpla employee) said I wasn’t entitled to it,” she said.

“I felt upset because I had been paying them for years."

She took her complaint to the ACFA in 2019 and was finally awarded back the premiums she paid of $8460.50, including interest backdated to when her complaint was first made.

Ms Johnson said she hoped the determination of Ms Rex’s outcome would set a precedent for other clients who are trying to cancel their policies.

Solicitor, Mark Holden from the Financial Rights Legal Centre, told NITV News that he has been representing people who signed up to Youpla more than a decade ago when it went under the name of the Aboriginal Community Benefits Fund. 

Since the determination of AFCA in October last year, Mr Holden said the Financial Legal Rights Centre have assisted clients with refunds for premiums paid over many years. 

"A lot of our clients were signed up in the 1990s and 2000s," said Mr Holden. 

"The remedies of the AFCA determination was a full refund of the premiums they paid over time plus interest.

"We've had people who were refunded up to about $20,000 or some were about $9,000.

“For a lot of our clients, we find that ACBF has marketed to them in more particular ways."

Mr Holden said it was not until late 2018, when Torres Strait Islander brother, Isaac Simon and Jamal Idris bought into Youpla that the company could claim it was Indigenous owned, which is why many of his clients felt they had been misled. 

Mr Holden is currently representing more clients and said he suspected more would contact him soon. 

In a statement, Youpla said it encouraged any clients with complaints to contact them, as they were taking them seriously. 

"We would encourage those individuals to contact us to resolve their complaint as the conduct described does not align with the principles or policies of Youpla," read the statement. 

"We encourage all members who are unsatisfied with the product or service of Youpla to contact us."

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is currently investigating Youpla for alleged misleading conduct, including claims it falsely marketed itself as an Aboriginal-owned organisation.

'Deceptive' funeral insurer forced to issue refund for misleading Aboriginal consumer
The Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) was found to have deceived a policyholder to wrongfully believe the funeral plan was controlled by and sold for the benefit of the Aboriginal Community.