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'Unconscionable practices': complaints against ACBF top 1000

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More than 1000 complaints have been lodged against four Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) companies over “unconscionable practices” in relation to sales of funeral expense policies.

The case numbers update from the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) comes as the Federal Government and regulators face growing pressure to take action against the companies, known also as the Youpla group.

AFCA says the complaints were received since the dispute resolution body started operating in 2018.

“The complaints are about unconscionable practices in the sales of funeral expense policies to First Nations consumers,” AFCA said in a brief statement.

AFCA says before the ACBF companies were placed in liquidation, it had issued 178 decisions against them, all in favour of the complainants due to misleading or deceptive conduct by the firms.

The ombudsman awarded more than $1.4 million in compensation to ACBF customers but understands 61 determinations remain unpaid. AFCA puts the unpaid compensation at close to $500,000.

AFCA announced in March it had stopped working on complaints against the ACBF companies due to the funds being placed in administration.

“However we are supporting affected consumers and their representatives to continue to register their complaints in case of further developments,” AFCA said in the statement.

A few weeks ago consumer advocates including Financial Rights Legal Centre wrote a joint letter to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) pressing for action against Youpla and its associated companies.

The letter says Youpla directors and other office holders must be held accountable for the financial harm caused to Indigenous communities, who bought worthless funeral plans from sales representatives using high pressure sales tactics.

ASIC started Federal Court proceedings against ACBF Funeral Plans and Youpla Group in October 2020 following a referral from the Hayne royal commission.

Consumer groups are also pressing the Federal Government to assist affected policyholders who are left without cover after years of paying premiums for their plans.