Half of Youpla insurance holders fear they won’t be able to provide culturally appropriate funeral

by Sarah Collard
Survey finds collapse of insurer has left thousands worried about going into debt or even using superannuation to cover costs

More than half of insurance holders affected by the collapse of ACBF-Youpla feared they would be unable to provide their loved ones with a culturally appropriate funeral, a survey has found.

Kath, an Anaiwan woman from western New South Wales, is part of a group of First Nations people visiting Canberra to urge politicians to do more to help those devastated by the disgraced funeral insurer’s collapse.

She said her mother had held an active policy with Youpla-ACBF for decades but she had now been working round the clock to pay for the funeral following her mother’s death.

“I am working myself to the grave now. That is all that is on my mind – I work seven days a week, sometimes night shifts,” Kath said.

“I still haven’t had time to grieve, she has only been gone since February,” Kath said.

Kath found records in her mother’s home detailing payments her mother made over decades to the company after taking out funeral policies for both herself and her son.

She cared for her ailing mother for more than two decades with her mother paying into the funeral fund every fortnight – thinking her family would be spared having to come up with thousands of dollars for a funeral.

“I could no longer look after her because she had a massive stroke and I had to put her in a nursing home, it was heartbreaking.”

Kath was forced to turn to advocacy groups and crowdfund as well as draw down on her own superannuation to bury her mother.

She wants that money back in the form of compensation from the federal government.

“I want justice. I want to put that money back into my super but also to honour mum with a nice headstone because she’s just got a cross, a wooden cross.”

Daphne lives in far-north Queensland and had paid into her funeral fund for more than 20 years after she was door-knocked by representatives for the company.

She took out a policy for herself and her four daughters in the early 90s but now fears she could burden her children if she dies, despite having paid thousands of dollars to Youpla-ACBF.

‘We should be able to get our money back,’ says Daphne from far-north Queensland.
‘We should be able to get our money back,’ says Daphne. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

“They’re now grown up and in their 30s but I thought I was doing the right thing and making sure I’d be covered and my daughters wouldn’t have to struggle,” Daphne said.

“Proper funerals are very important to us as Aboriginal people, we are born on Country and we die on Country and that is something that gives us our identity,” she said.

“I want everyone to get what they paid for, I want what I am entitled to, we should be able to get our money back,” she said.

The pleas for action come after a survey conducted by Save Sorry Business reveals the scale of the problem facing thousands of Indigenous people who have been faithfully paying into the scheme for decades.

A survey of several hundred people affected by the ACBF-Youpla collapse found the majority of insurance holders were in their 50s through to their 70s.

Half of all those surveyed feared they would not be able to provide their loved ones with a culturally appropriate funeral.

The survey also found many feared they would now have to go into debt, borrow from family members or community or access their superannuation to pay for funerals.

Bettina Cooper is a financial counsellor with Mob Strong Debt Help at the Financial Rights Legal Centre and said the survey provides a glimpse into the impact of the collapse of the company which aggressively sold funeral insurance to Indigenous communities for decades.

Bettina Cooper, a financial counsellor with Mob Strong Debt Help at the Financial Rights Legal Centre.
Bettina Cooper, a financial counsellor with Mob Strong Debt Help at the Financial Rights Legal Centre. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

“There is not one family we speak to that has not expressed trauma, or express pain, or worry, or fear of intergenerational debt,” Cooper said.

She said the federal government’s scheme announced last month meant families with active schemes as of 1 April 2020 will be eligible for paid funerals – but many people aren’t covered.

“We know that 30,000 people have been affected by the ACBF-Youpla collapse and we think that will cover about 500 people. There’s no clarity about what will happen to the other people at this point.

Under the government scheme people who held policies with ACBF-Youpla as of 1 April 2020 will receive a payout for funeral expenses equal to the one they were originally promised by the company.

Cooper welcomed the scheme as an interim measure for urgent relief but said more was needed.

“We are very pleased that there is an emergency solution place and we understand that they are giving consideration, thought and planning but we just want to make sure they include all of the 30,000 people affected.”