Thursday, 31 October 2019 13:21

Training college Unique penalised $4.1 million over consumer breaches Featured

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Training college Unique has copped penalties of $4.165 million for breaches of consumer regulations - including enrolling consumers in VET FEE-HELP funded courses - and luring some consumers with the offer of free laptops to derive revenues from the Commonwealth, to their detriment.

The Federal Court ordered the penalties against Unique International College Pty Ltd after action was taken by the consumer watchdog the ACCC and the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training.

The ACCC and the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training commenced proceedings against Unique in October 2015 following a joint ACCC and NSW Fair Trading investigation.

In its judgement, the Federal Court found that Unique had engaged in unconscionable conduct against five consumers, making false or misleading representations to four of the consumers, and breaching the unsolicited consumer agreements provisions in relation to six consumers.

The court said the consumers had been enrolled in VET FEE-HELP funded courses, costing up to $22,000, as well as being lured with free laptop offers.

Commenting on the case of one individual consumer, the judge said: "This was the exploitation of an obviously very vulnerable person for financial gain. It is difficult to imagine unconscionable conduct which could be worse.”

“These students enrolled by Unique were unlikely to be able to complete the courses, but would have been left with significant lifetime student debt,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“Some of these consumers enrolled in courses by Unique had poor literacy skills, and others could not use computer or did not have an internet connection.

“The ACCC will always prioritise taking action against businesses which engage in egregious conduct impacting vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers,” Sims said.

The ACCC says that, using the new VET FEE-HELP Student Redress measures, the Commonwealth is in the process of cancelling the debts of eligible consumers enrolled by Unique.

“We support the Commonwealth’s continuing work to cancel these students’ debts,” Sims said.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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