State Trustees is responsible for the finances
of over 10 000 Victorians who can’t manage their own affairs usually due to disability
or illness. We’ve seen over the last few years a significant
increase in the number of complaints about State Trustees, raising questions about whether
they act in people’s best interests. People put their trust in State Trustees,
and in many of the cases we saw, all too often that trust is being breached.
Money being paid out when it shouldn’t be, money not being paid when it should.
At the heart of these complaints in an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.
Many of these problems stem from poor communication. In one instance, we saw State Trustees spending
a third of a woman’s life savings on legal fees to contest a will that she didn’t actually
want to contest. Instances where money was being paid for fines
that the person involved hadn’t actually incurred. In another case State Trustees didn’t check
with an elderly woman about what should happen to her possessions and they all ended up in a tip. This included family photographs. Very, very
distressing. Many of the problems we identified in this
investigation were the result of State Trustees trying to contain the cost of its services.
They moved to a new model, the result of that in one instance we looked at where 48 different
people dealing with the same person’s file. Some of the State Trustees staff we talked
to said to us that it made them more transactional, it changed their mindset to the point where
sometimes they forgot they were dealing with human beings.
My investigation has been underway for 12 months already and in that time we have begun
to see real improvements. Many State Trustees staff are very dedicated
and have told us about their frustrations at not being listened to in the past.
I’ve made 14 recommendations to State Trustees and other government departments, including
reviewing the funding for State Trustees to ensure that people have the capacity to make
decisions about their own affairs wherever possible.
And I’ve also asked the government to consider whether it is right to continue the model
of a state owned corporation – whether that the commercial imperative there, in fact conflicts
with the focus on human rights. These are some of the most vulnerable people
in the state and respect for human dignity means we must do better.