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.
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.