‘Overwhelming sense of powerlessness’ strikes Victoria’s most vulnerable
28 June 2019 at 5:16 pm
Vulnerable people have had their possessions sent to the tip, lost thousands of dollars in welfare entitlements and unwittingly paid other people’s fines because of “systemic” failures within State Trustees, the Victorian ombudsman has found.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass said State Trustees – an agency managing the finances of those unable to look after their own affairs due to disability, illness or injury – had failed some of the most vulnerable people in Victoria.
In one case, a State Trustees contractor accidentally took the personal possessions of a woman in her 70s with bipolar disorder and dementia to the tip, because of miscommunication after she moved into an aged care facility.
The woman lost family photographs, her son’s passport, her parents’ birth and death certificates, telephone and address books and other things she said were “very precious to her”.
“I have never been so upset or angry. I feel very powerless,” she wrote.
The ombudsman’s investigation into the state-owned company reviewed the cases of 30 State Trustees’ clients in depth, and found 23 contained evidence of poor financial management.
Glass said at the heart of these issues was “an overwhelming sense of powerlessness”.
“The indignity of having to request money for a haircut to supplement a meagre allowance. The humiliation of going to the bank to collect your pension, only to find the money is no longer there,” Glass said.
“I acknowledge that many State Trustees staff are trying to do the right thing in what can be very challenging circumstances, and that the ombudsman rarely sees the instances when clients are satisfied.
“But the evidence of dissatisfaction, directly impacting on State Trustees clients’ quality of life, is too substantial to be treated as other than systemic.”
Other cases of State Trustees financial mismanagement included a man who lost $10,888 in pension entitlements and a woman who lost $3,965 of Newstart payments.
State Trustees also paid $2,058 of an elderly client’s funds for traffic fines, despite being warned someone else was driving their car.
Glass said as a state-owned company, State Trustees operated in a commercial environment where there was pressure to reduce costs.
“While we found no evidence of individual decisions being made for commercial reasons, there is evidence of commercial pressures limiting its service as a whole,” she said.
The ombudsman made 14 recommendations in her report, including a review of State Trustees’ governance and status as a state-owned company and a review of state government funding for the company.
The report also called for measures to increase State Trustees’ engagement with people with disability, carers and advocacy organisations.
State Trustees and most government departments have already accepted all the recommendations in full or in principle.
In a statement on their website, State Trustees apologised to its clients for the failings identified in the report
“The investigation provided us with a chance to identify how we can do better,” the statement said.
“While we have already introduced several changes, there is much more that needs to be done. We acknowledge the strong reliance placed on us when we administer a person’s affairs.
“We are committed to meeting the challenge of fulfilling the Victorian community’s expectations of us in carrying out this important role.”