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ABC News
Mya Kordic 

Kimberley families still in limbo almost a year after Youpla funeral insurance collapse

Veronica Johnson (centre) has advocated for more than 50 clients affected, including as Deborah Sebastian (left) and Josephine Sarah. (ABC Kimberley: Mya Kordic)

Kimberley families left heartbroken by delays in funeral services for deceased loved ones are still seeking compensation, a year after a now-defunct insurance company went insolvent.

Thousands of Indigenous Australians have paid premiums to the insurance company over the past 30 years, formally known as the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF), later rebranded Youpla.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) first took ACBF to the Federal Court in October 2020 and accused the company of "misleading and deceptive conduct", when it falsely marketed itself as an Aboriginal business.

Save Sorry Business Coordinator Bettina Cooper is helping Indigenous Australians impacted by Youpla going into administration. (ABC News: Kirstie Wellauer)

As it approaches a year since Youpla's liquidation this March, victims in the Kimberley have called for a resolution from the government.

Last week a group of advocates from the Save Sorry Business Coalition made the trip to Canberra, to meet with parliamentarians and discuss the formation of an enduring resolution for Indigenous Australians.

Save Sorry Business coordinator Bettina Cooper attended the meeting and said the Aboriginal-led coalition was the only group to consult with First Nations people.

"We're asking the government to consider, if they come up with an enduring resolution, that they come up with one with culturally appropriate options based on consultation," she said.

"Those options include a funeral bond, a funeral savings, product and cash, depending on the needs of the individual."

In the morgue for 'months'

Josephine Sarah, a 62-year-old from Broome, was forced to agree to a lower compensation amount in order to focus on Sorry Time when she lost her loved ones.

When Ms Sarah's partner passed away during the beginning of the COVID pandemic, his body was left in a morgue for months before burial, leaving him unrecognisable to his family.

A number of factors contributed to the delay, including a strain on services during the pandemic and an inability to access insurance payments from Youpla.

"Sorry Time is not respected when we have to leave family members in the morgue that long," she said.

Roslyn Dolby was one of the victims of funeral insurance organisation Youpla going into administration. (Supplied: Veronica Johnson)

Roslyn Dolby from One Arm Point chose to join ACBF with her mother in 2013 and said she felt proud to invest money into what she thought was an Aboriginal company.

Ms Dolby also became a victim of the scheme and felt deceived by their practices after she lost almost $7,000, as is yet to receive full compensation.

After Youpla went into liquidation, Ms Dolby's mother passed away and her body was left in the morgue for months before her family received a funeral service for her.

"We don't have that kind of money to bury a loved one straightaway. That's why we signed up for the prepaid funeral," she said.

"So when something happens, we don't have to be looking elsewhere, asking other people or finding other places for money."

Deborah Sebastian first began making regular payments to ACBF in the 1990s.  (ABC Kimberley: Mya Kordic )

'Tired' of being scammed

Deborah Sebastian is from Beagle Bay, but lives in Broome for dialysis treatment. She had funds lost in the Youpla scheme.

Ms Sebastian had been paying weekly increments to the fund since the 1990s and it wasn't until she made a phone call inquiring about her balance that she realised something was wrong.

Concerned the money she saved for her children is now irrecoverable, Ms Sebastian wants other Indigenous Australians to be able to source a provider without being misled.

"We're tired of being scammed," she said.

"We want somebody you can trust, somebody you can know."

Broome CIRCLE financial counsellor Veronica Johnson said it was critical the government took responsibility for their regulatory failures, highlighted in the 2018 banking royal commission.

Ms Johnson said Youpla were able to find ways to avoid certain restrictions, which enabled the creation of multiple accounts, with some clients holding as many as four different plans at once.

"The government should be a lot more attentive to what is going on, put in those extra measures, protect people and be more vigilant with all of these different funeral insurance groups," she said.

Having already endured a lengthy fight for justice, Ms Johnson is concerned some of her clients' failing health or elderly age will mean they are unable to ever save enough money again for a funeral.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones were approached for comment.

A judgement in ASIC's court proceedings against ACBF is yet to be handed down.

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