First nations people affected by the Youpla funeral fund collapse won't be getting all their money back, but it could be worse.
A new government scheme is set to provide over 13,000 people with the option of a government-backed bond, or a payment of 60% of the premiums paid (capped at the insurance benefit amount).
The offer is available to Youpla clients who were still paying for a funeral insurance policy on or after 1 August 2015 – the date the government at the time acted to prevent further payments to the dodgy scheme through Centrelink's payment system Centrepay.
Thirty years of deception
Youpla, formerly known as the Aboriginal Community Benefits Fund (ACBF), was a long-running funeral insurance scheme that had been crooked for years.
Since the 1990s policies were sold to Indigenous consumers under false pretenses, with marketing materials dressed to look like the company was run by Indigenous people.
The truth was it had long been run by UK-born businessman Ron Pattendon, who is now caught up in legal proceedings for his part in the collapse.
Youpla finally came undone in March 2022, leaving tens of thousands of Indigenous families who had been paying premiums for years with no insurance and no reimbursement.
Support program available as of 1 July
The government's Youpla Support Program is expected to deliver about $97 million to victims
The government's new Youpla Support Program, which comes into effect on 1 July 2024, will replace the temporary scheme currently in place and is expected to deliver about $97 million to the victims.
The program will accept applications until 30 June 2026.
Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, says "we've ensured the needs of First Nations people, communities and key stakeholders have been front and centre in designing the Youpla Support Program," adding "this measure will hopefully bring peace of mind to thousands of families impacted by the collapse of the Youpla Group".
Before accepting the government's offer, Youpla victims can access free financial advice.
For eligible Youpla clients who want to set the money aside for its original intent, the government offer includes a government-regulated funeral bond in lieu of a cash payment.
Save Sorry Business coalition welcomes the scheme
After the collapse of Youpla, First Nations advocacy groups around the country took action and formed the 130-member strong Save Sorry Business coalition.
The group's coordinator, Bettina Cooper, says "we welcome this announcement and commend Ministers Linda Burney and Stephen Jones for following through with their commitment to put a scheme in place to address the harm to First Nations people caused by Youpla, Centrepay and regulatory failures over many years".
This resolution will relieve immediate financial hardship for manySave Sorry Business coordinator Bettina Cooper
"This resolution will relieve immediate financial hardship for many, provide certainty around Sorry Business for others, and enable thousands of families to move on with their lives," Cooper adds.
Lynda Edwards, a Wangkumara/Barkandji woman and financial capability coordinator at Financial Counselling Australia says the announcement has been a long time coming.
"It is over thirty years since Youpla started targeting First Nations people and over twenty years since the Federal Government approved Youpla to receive payments via Centrepay, taking money straight from people's social security payments before they could even put food on the table," she says.
The exploitation and deception perpetrated by Youpla has caused severe intergenerational harmMark Holden, Mob Strong Debt
Mark Holden, a Dunghutti man and Aboriginal senior solicitor at Mob Strong Debt Help points out the extent of the harm caused.
"The exploitation and deception perpetrated by Youpla has caused severe intergenerational harm for individuals, families and communities. It has created financial and cultural crises, worsened health outcomes and deepened poverty."
"This announcement is the beginning of that process, not the end. But it's a strong beginning that gives many Youpla payers the ability to choose how they will take care of Sorry Business," he adds.
A very chequered past
Prior to its collapse, Youpla was the subject of numerous findings of misleading and deceptive sales practices from the Financial Ombudsman Service, the forerunner to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
Its door to door sales tactics were effective enough to sign up over 100,000 First Nations customers.
The company took in over $170 million, mostly from low-income policyholders. Much of the money was reportedly sent offshore to properties and businesses connected to Pattendon in Vanuatu.
In August last year ASIC commenced civil legal proceedings against Pattendon and four other former directors of Youpla/ACBF for breaches of their duties, a case which is ongoing.
How to register for the program
Eligible people can register to receive updates and more information about the new Youpla Support Program by visiting niaa.gov.au/youpla or by contacting the National Indigenous Australians Agency on 1800 079 098.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.