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Daughter calls for reform after Aboriginal pensioner charged almost $10,000 a year for home insurance

Giovanni Torre -

Complaints have been filed to Australia's key financial watchdogs over an insurance provider charging an 88 year-old Aboriginal pensioner almost $10,000 a year for home coverage.

Maureen O'Meara told National Indigenous Times that her late father, Jaru man Leonard O'Meara, was driven to depression by the rapidly rising premiums.

"He was 88 years old, he was a very strong man, private about his own business," she said.

"I was back in Derby for the year last year and dad came up to me and showed me the notice of payment and I nearly fell over, it was only for the house – not even for contents.

"I said 'dad, we can shop around and get something better than this'."

Ms O'Meara said her father was very stressed prior to his death from a heart attack last year.

"Dad has passed now. He was 88. He was very stressed and he died of a heart attack. We had not seen him in that sort of state before, worried about finances, he said 'I don't know how I am going to pay this'… He sunk into depression… He said 'I have have had enough, I just want to go now, I have had enough of this," she said.

"It was very hard to see someone who was a very proud man who had always done everything for himself and his family to become so stressed that he got sick."

In 2009, Mr O'Meara, began paying for home insurance after he signed on to the ANZ Home Insurance policy during a visit to his local branch.

The policy was underwritten by QBE Insurance, and co-insured with an ANZ subsidiary, until mid-2015, after which QBE became the sole insurer.

In 2022-23, his insurance for the home cost most than $9,500. Between 2009 and 2024, Mr O'Meara paid $54,000 on the home insurance. A recent valuation found the property, built in the 1950s, was worth no more than $175,000 and almost all of the value was for the land alone.

"We contacted Alan (Gray) from Bush Money Mob and he got things happening for us. We were working with Alan and he has reported this to ASIC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) and another one of the watchdogs (the Australian Financial Complaints Authority)," Ms O'Meara told National Indigenous Times on Monday.

"I was speaking with a friend last night, Dr Stephen Hagan, and he said one of the things we could look at was a class action. We are hoping the story will bring forward more older people and Aboriginal people who have been ripped off by ANZ and QBE.

"Dad was loyal to ANZ… He was very diligent with paying his bills on time and making sure everything was done. His insurance started out around $2000 a year and it bumped up and up to nearly $10,000.

"Other people in Derby with similar sort of houses – an old style asbestos home – a friend of mine has home and contents for around $2,500 a year. My cousin was the same, it was nowhere near what dad was paying."

Ms O'Meara said it was effectively a "loyalty penalty".

"That system, this is a systemic issue. That is what they are using to say that they were right – their system – so systemic changes need to occur. They need to be penalised so they do the thing thing by their customers in the future," she said.

"This is an old product he had had for years. They should be decreasing premiums for loyal customers not increasing them. Their system needs to ensure ethical treatment."

Mr Gray from Bush Money Mob told National Indigenous Times he'd reported the case of "appalling mistreatment" to ASIC and AFCA, with the aim to bring the matter to a "high level" and have it investigated.

"They are just the most wonderful family, I feel quite privileged to be working with them," he said of the O'Mearas.

"They are so committed to community values and family."

In a statement issued to the ABC, QBE rejected the claim Mr O'Meara was ripped off.

"We acknowledge Mr O'Meara's dissatisfaction with the premiums paid, however they did reflect the risks and benefits of the policy held by Mr O'Meara," a spokesperson said.

QBE said Mr O'Meara did receive the discounts he was entitled to, including an over-50s senior discount, and was not charged a loyalty tax.

"The policy was a full building replacement policy, which means if there was an insurable event, the insurers would rebuild the building to current building standards and requirements, no matter the subsequent costs," the spokesperson said.

"The rebuild would cover a rebuild of the home to contemporary building standards in line with the National Construction Code, including current cyclone standards.

"To meet current building standards required by law, the building would be substantially different and more expensive than the current structure built in 1955 and the cost of full building replacement construction is not necessarily related to the market value of property."

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