Need to know
- Youpla was formerly known as the Aboriginal Community Benefits Fund (ACBF) and collapsed in March
- 17,000 Indigenous families have been left with nothing, many after paying tens of thousands of dollars over years
- Over 100 organisations are urging both major parties to step up and promise to 'Save Sorry Business'
Over half a dozen members of Sheryn Exton's family, including her mother Rhonda, have been left devastated following the collapse of a funeral insurance provider which was aggressively marketing poor value policies to Indigenous consumers over decades.
Sheryn and her family are descendants of Katherine Joinbee "Muntajima", Elder of the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji.
"It's dishonest and unjust, especially when Mum tried to do the right thing and signed up so our family wouldn't be burdened," the Cairns-based woman tells CHOICE.
Youpla sold itself with Aboriginal imagery, messaging and staff over several decades, despite not having any Indigenous owners for the majority of that time
Youpla, previously known as the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF), is a funeral insurance provider which sold itself with Aboriginal imagery, messaging and staff over several decades, despite not having any Indigenous owners for the majority of that time.
In March, the company became insolvent, leaving 17,000 Indigenous families with nothing after many had paid tens of thousands of dollars towards policies meant to guarantee them a dignified cultural funeral, also known as Sorry Business.
For Sheryn, whose mother Rhonda Johnson paid what the family estimate to be around $18,000 to ACBF since signing up to their insurance policy in the mid 2000s, the collapse has brought extreme stress at a time that her health is also declining. The company's collapse means she is now left with nothing to show for her financial contributions of over a decade.
Johnson, who is on a disability support pension, now has no other option but to take out another expensive funeral insurance policy, but she is worried that her health may decline further during the mandatory 12-month waiting period.
Culturally we need to put our family to rest the correct waySheryn Exton
"If anything happens to mum between now and 12 months' time we are in a really bad place. We would probably try and crowdfund, beg and borrow in order to give her a dignified burial," says Exton.
"Sorry Business is big culturally for us. To lose someone is hard enough, but to fight to have to come up with money to get them buried, it adds a stress that people can't afford. Culturally we need to put our family to rest the correct way," she adds.
Save Sorry Business campaign
Over 100 major community and Indigenous organisations have come together to write an open letter to both Labor and the Coalition calling for urgent action to prevent Indigenous policyholders nearing the end of their lives from being stranded.
"Whichever party ends up in power [following the election] should come forward and try to help out these people," Mark Holden, Dunghutti man and Solicitor at Mob Strong Debt Help tells CHOICE.
Lynda Edwards, Wangkumara and Barkandji woman and Financial Capability Coordinator at Financial Counselling Australia says it's important that both major parties make a commitment to Save Sorry Business.
It's important that both major parties make a commitment to Save Sorry Business
"We need a redress or a compensation scheme so that these people aren't left in financial hardship, or at least their families aren't left in financial hardship. I mean, the trauma that people are feeling at the moment knowing that, you know, their funerals are not going to be paid for is absolutely devastating, not only to them, but to their families," she says.
Edwards says it has been heartening to see so many organisations sign on to the open letter.
"As an Aboriginal person, knowing that there are other organisations out there that really understand the cultural practice for our people in times of funeral and Sorry Business, is really heartening to me," she says.
Still waiting for compensation
Since 2018, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has issued 178 decisions against ACBF/Youpla and awarded all in favour of the complainants due to misleading or deceptive conduct, including the company pretending to be an Indigenous organisation when it wasn't.
Over $1.4 million has been awarded in compensation to ACBF customers. However, close to $500,000 of that, in relation to 61 determinations, remains unpaid.
In total there have been over 700 complaints to AFCA about ACBF/Youpla since 2018, with many complaints yet to have determinations made.
There have been over 700 complaints to AFCA about ACBF/Youpla since 2018
But the tens of thousands of dollars awarded to victims by AFCA may never be seen due to the company's insolvency.
Tracey Walsh, an Aboriginal woman based in Rumbalara in regional Victoria, was awarded around $10,000 from AFCA but hasn't seen a cent of that money yet.
"I've got no money to bury myself. It's just disgusting and upsetting. The government has done nothing to help us," she says.
CHOICE is one of the over 100 organisations which have signed on to the open letter. Add your name.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.