More calls for an inquiry into rip offs by Public Trustee

I am not sure that these repeated calls for inquiries into the practices of the Public Trustee is the answer. What is needed is for the government to return the public trustee under the control of the public service and for the office to be made fully accountable and for ordinary people with limited assets be provided with a free service to wind up the financial affairs of their family and friends when they die.

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Family wins battle against Public Trustee to keep brother’s financial independence

Sue Nunn won the right to administer her brother John’s finances over the public trustee.(Supplied: Sue Nunn)

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Sue Nunn feels like a weight has lifted off her shoulders after winning a lengthy legal battle against the Public Trustee of Queensland to ensure her brother has financial independence.

Key points:

  • The Nunn family won a lengthy legal battle to gain administration of their brother’s disability pension
  • The public trustee was charging the man 40 per cent of his disability pension to manage finances
  • The Queensland government is establishing a trustee advisory board to improve performance, transparency, and public accountability

The trustee challenged her late father’s will in 2018 on behalf of his two sons, Terry and John, who have disabilities.

Ms Nunn said it forced the family into a protracted legal battle.

She said she was shocked to learn the trustee was charging her brother John — a 54-year-old who has Down syndrome — 40 per cent of his disability pension to look after his finances.

“It equated to just over $8,000 a year, so that’s a substantial hit to his income,” Ms Nunn said.

“That would have meant that John would have potentially lost his public housing home of 20 years and his financial independence.”

Sue Nunn spent two years in a legal battle with the Public Trustee over her family’s finances.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jess Lamb)

Ms Nunn’s parents had their original wills written by the trustee.

She said the family had a “reasonably good” experience with the organisation when dealing with John’s finances — until the death of her parents and the challenge to the will.

“So we spent the next two years fighting them at a cost of $80,000,” she said.

Ms Nunn said they were able to keep John in his long-term accommodation at Wurtulla thanks to his National Disability Insurance Scheme package.

“If he hadn’t had that then his funds would have been decimated,” she said.

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QCAT rules in family’s favour

The Nunns lodged an application last November for financial administration on behalf of John. 

The case was heard at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal in July.

The tribunal ruled the Public Trustee be removed as Mr Nunn’s administrator and Ms Nunn and her other brother appointed financial controllers. 

“It’s a massive weight lifted off our shoulders,” Ms Nunn said. 

“We know that financially John will be well looked after for the rest of his life. 

“We know that he’s going to have anything that he needs to support him and his quality of life for as long as he lives.” 

A branch office of the Public Trustee of Queensland in suburban Brisbane.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

Ms Nunn has had half of the $80,000 in legal costs repaid by the trustee, but she wants the other 50 per cent paid back as well.

She also wants the organisation held to account after it “mishandled” her family’s case.

“I was told that despite all of the things that went wrong that the only consequence for staff members was that they were counselled as to the expectations of their roles,” she said.

“So we were forced to go through a two-year court battle and staff were counselled. I just don’t think that’s sufficient.” 

Ms Nunn said it took her two to three hours a month to reconcile her brother’s accounts.

“That 40 per cent was being used by them to pay a total of seven payees,” she said.

“I just find that staggering.”

Calls for an inquiry 

The Member for Maroochydore, Fiona Simpson, said the public trustee needed to be held to account.

“This is a horrific story,” Ms Simpson said.

Fiona Simpson says there should be an inquiry into the Public Trustee.(ABC News: Matt Eaton)

“This is a loving, capable family, who are exactly what you want to work with — their own loved ones.

“You shouldn’t have to fight to protect the vulnerable when they’re not fulfilling their fiduciary duty.”

Ms Simpson is calling for an inquiry into the Public Trustee after a report released earlier this year found a range of practices that “fall short” of its fiduciary and legal duties.

“I think there is a need for an inquiry — not to waste money, but to fix the system — so people get fair outcomes,” Ms Simpson said.

“There really is an urgency for the state and the Attorney-General to step in, bring back the transparency.”

In a statement, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the government had committed to establishing a Public Trustee Advisory and Monitoring Board, which would focus on improving its performance, transparency, and public accountability.

She said a bill to establish the board would be introduced to parliament “soon”.

Reforms bring trustee ‘into 21st century’

Geoff Rowe, chief executive of Aged and Disability Advocates (ADA) Australia, said the Public Trustee of Queensland was taking on some reforms to bring the organisation “into the 21st century”.

“Some of their new initiatives, like their financial literacy training, are about trying to make some of the people that they currently support independent so that they can manage their own affairs going forward,” he said.

Geoff Rowe, CEO of Aged and Disability Advocates Australia.(ABC News: Dean Caton)

Mr Rowe said it was important for people able to manage their own affairs to be supported by the public trustee to do so.

“That they help to develop the skills they need to become financially literate and financially independent,” he said.

“The public trustee does have a place where they are a suitable option.

“But we really need to ensure that toolkit, in its consideration of any application, really does fully explore what options are available for that person.”

Amy Sheehan
ABC Sunshine Coast
21 October 2021

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