The ACCC and the Commonwealth (on behalf of the Department of Education and Training) have filed a cross-appeal in the ongoing Federal Court litigation against Unique International College Pty Ltd (Unique).
In June 2017, the Court found Unique had engaged in systemic unconscionable conduct in New South Wales. The Court found that Unique targeted disadvantaged consumers by offering gifts of laptops, providing financial incentives to its sales representatives and holding sign-up meetings to enrol students.
Unique appealed against the findings of the Court. The ACCC and the Commonwealth have now filed a cross appeal as they maintain that the trial judge ought to have found that the systemic unconscionable conduct also occurred in Victoria and Queensland. The ACCC and the Commonwealth have also appealed the judge’s failure to find that Unique’s system had further features that contributed to the unconscionability of Unique’s behaviour.
“Unique exploited vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community. We are taking this further action as we believe that Unique’s conduct in its dealing with Victorian and Queensland students was also unconscionable,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“Our case is that students in NSW, Victoria and Queensland were misled by Unique and, as a result, being saddled with significant debts. Unique made representations that courses were free, when in fact students would incur a debt up to $25,000 per course under the VET FEE-HELP scheme,” Ms Court said.
The ACCC is seeking redress for affected consumers by cancelling enrolments and debts. The ACCC and the Commonwealth are seeking orders for the repayment of the funds paid by the Commonwealth.
The appeal and cross-appeal will be heard on a date to be fixed by the Full Federal Court.
The ACCC and the Commonwealth (on behalf of the Department of Education) took action against Unique in October 2015 following a joint investigation with NSW Fair Trading into the training colleges sector.
In the 2014-15 financial year, Unique enrolled over 3,600 students in its diploma courses and was paid approximately $57 million by the Commonwealth for those enrolments.
Unique sold VET FEE-HELP diploma courses that cost between $10,000 to $25,000. In 2014 and 2015, Unique sales staff used tactics including door-to-door sales in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Several of those people enrolled by Unique lived in former Aboriginal missions in Bourke, Wagga Wagga, Walgett and Taree.
The ACCC is also awaiting judgment in its VET FEE-HELP litigation against Empower, while Federal Court proceedings are continuing against AIPE and Phoenix.