New liquidator data reveals ‘targeted exploitation’ of First Nations communities through Centrepay system

Youpla’s liquidators also revealed the company has had over 150,000 policies active at different times between 1992 and 2019, with around 20,000 still active in 2019. This reveals the scale of the harm caused to First Nations communities and provides insight into how their exploitative model relied on ‘churning’ sign-ups and cancellations to maximise profits and reduce potential liabilities to policyholders.

First Nations advocates say the new analysis underlines the central role of Centrepay in legitimising exploitative financial products and facilitating payments from vulnerable households during a sixteen-year period from 2001 to 2017. Newsletters from the time talk about the company’s positive relationship with Centrelink and encouraged Centrepay as the preferred payment option.

The members of the Save Sorry Business Coalition are seeking a commitment from the Federal Government to ensure that First Nations people signed up through Centrepay are included in the enduring resolution currently under development by the National Indigenous Australians Agency and Prime Minister’s Office.

Policyholders whose policies were cancelled due to Centrepay or who left after the damning revelations of the Banking Royal Commission are not currently covered by the Federal Government’s interim scheme, raising fears that they might be left out in the cold when a final scheme is announced.

Data indicates that at least 30,000 First Nations people were harmed by Youpla over three decades, with the actual number probably being much higher. Certain communities were repeatedly targeted by aggressive and illegal sales tactics. The total amount lost to Youpla could be as much as $300 million.

This predatory behaviour was exacerbated by a significant failure of previous governments and regulators to protect vulnerable families and communities over three decades, which has been acknowledged by the Federal Government.

First Nations advocates and policyholders are travelling to Canberra on Monday 28 November for a week of briefing with MPs and other government representatives to outline the key requirements for a fair and culturally appropriate response for all policyholders who have been harmed – and who remain in a state of crisis and uncertainty.

Quote attributable to Lynda Edwards, Wangkumara/Barkandji woman and Financial Capability Coordinator at Financial Counselling Australia

“For 16 years, Youpla had the Federal Government’s stamp of approval as a company approved to take payments through Centrepay. First Nations families were paying for their funeral insurance policies before they paid for food, clothing or school expenses.”

“It was clear to everyone that Youpla carrying out targeted exploitation of First Nations people but nothing was done to stop it. The current Federal Government has a responsibility to right that historical wrong and make amends to those who suffered and are still suffering today.”

Quote attributable to Mark Holden, Dunghutti man and Aboriginal Solicitor at Mob Strong Debt Help

“The 6,000 plus people who lost their policies and savings when Youpla was taken off the Centrepay system have paid millions of dollars to a company that set out to exploit and harm them. They are not currently covered by the Federal Government’s interim scheme and I hold grave fears they might be left out in the cold when the final resolution is announced. That would be a tragic outcome that communities will not be able to accept.”

“We are calling on the inclusion of all policyholders who signed up to these exploitative products and the provision of culturally appropriate optiosn, such as a refunds, replacement bonds or saving plans. Forcing a one-size-fits-all solution on diverse people and communities is not the answer.”

Quote attributable to Daphne Naden, Kuku Yalanji Elder and Director at the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network

“The Federal Government’s interim scheme is set to expire in November 2023, making the May 2023 Budget the last chance to properly fund an enduring resolution for families and communities harmed by Youpla and its regulatory failure.”

“Without significant investment in the May Budget, tens of thousands of families will be unable to conduct culturally meaningful Sorry Business. The level of anxiety and crisis right across the country while we wait for this to be resolved cannot be overstated.

Useful contacts

People can call 1800 296 989 or email youpla@treasury.gov.au to lodge an application for the interim scheme or visit https://treasury.gov.au/youpla

About Youpla/ACBF and the Save Sorry Business Coalition

For almost 30 years, the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund, trading as Youpla, aggressively sold poor-value funeral plans to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia.

Youpla actively preyed on the culturally significant practice of Sorry Business with many people paying tens of thousands of dollars to the company to ensure their families could afford a dignified and culturally appropriate Sorry Business.

Successive federal governments and regulators have been aware of the exploitative practices of Youpla for many years. First Nations and consumer groups warned the Federal Government in 2019 that the fund would collapse. Despite the warnings, policymakers chose to watch the fund collapse instead of stepping in.

In September 2022, the Federal Government put in place a temporary scheme to assist a small percentage of affected First Nations peoples who met certain criteria and had a family member pass away after 1 April 2020. This interim scheme will expire in 12 months’ time.

The Save Sorry Business Coalition is a First Nations-led campaign supported by 130 organisations and over 20,000 Australians seeking a fair and enduring resolution for the 30,000 First Nations people harmed by the misleading and deceptive conduct of Youpla and the massive and prolonged failure of government and regulators over two decades.

The Save Sorry Business Coalition is led by First Nations people and organisations, supported by charities, financial counselling organisations, community legal centres, consumer advocacy organisations, social services, unions and individual community members seeking justice.