A woman who told the financial services royal commission of her mistreatment by insurance companies said the final report by Commissioner Kenneth Hayne, revealed to the public on Monday, did not go far enough to bring scammers to justice.
Ms Walsh’s case was examined by the royal commission but was not mentioned in Commissioner Hayne’s final report.
“There still needs to be naming and shaming. It was a bit incomplete in the end,” said Tracey Walsh, a business manager with the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative in Shepparton, Victoria.
Ms Walsh bought funeral insurance in 2005 after a close family friend died suddenly, forcing the family to dip into superannuation to cover the funeral costs.
“At that point my parents were on a pension and I thought the right thing to do was to join up to Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund that I heard about at my employer,” she said.
However, despite its name, the group was not what it seemed.
Ms Walsh signed up because she believed it was an Aboriginal corporation – she was not aware it was privately owned.
While Ms Walsh paid her premiums regularly, she became concerned about her level of cover when her parents died.
“I saw the costs of their funerals and thought I needed to boost my cover to $12,000,” she said.
However, when she made the application, she was told she wasn’t eligible because she lived with a mental illness and was taking medication.
It was then that she felt trapped.
“I couldn’t get higher cover, but I couldn’t afford to cancel as I would have lost everything I had put in. They had me over a barrel,” she said.
She was in a Catch 22: Paying for insurance that was insufficient for her needs. By then she had contributed more than $10,000 to the fund.
Ms Walsh paid the insurance costs right through to August last year.
Following the intervention of the Consumer Action Law Centre, Ms Walsh was given a lifetime cover of $10,000 without further payments.
However, she said many people in the Aboriginal community were still stuck with insufficient funeral insurance.
“People are only getting a bare minimum and there is no money left over [in relatives’ estates] to help family members,” Ms Walsh said.
Commissioner Hayne recommended funeral insurance be included as a ‘financial product’ to ensure it has the same protections for members as other insurance types.
Queensland man Glenn Sutton made an insurance claim for his home at Cannonvale, Queensland, following damage wrought by Cyclone Debbie in March 2017.
“We made a claim and signed a contract with a builder chosen by the insurance company, but they didn’t start work for three or four months,” Mr Sutton said.
“In that time a tarpaulin they had put on the roof had let in a lot of water and the initial damage that started at a mere $70,000 escalated to almost 10 times that. It was dead-set negligence.”
By November that year the Suttons had become so frustrated they appointed a third party in an attempt to progress their insurance claim.
An agreement was made for the insurer to pay more than $300,000 but “when we stripped the building back it was not up to code”, Mr Sutton said.
The insurer, Youi, did not want to pay to bring it up to code.
“It was 30 years old and no house that age will comply with modern codes because they change them every few years,” Mr Sutton said.
In the end, Mr Sutton received a payout and moved to another house.
He said there was little in the commission recommendations that would have helped him.
“There is not enough power in the individual to do anything,” he said.
“When Youi gave us a quote it wasn’t transparent; just a figure. If I’d have taken a payout on their number I would have been bankrupt as I would have had a $300,000 mortgage on a house that was never going to be finished.”
The Commissioner recommended unfair contract provisions be applied to insurance contracts.