New client-centered approach at State Trustees is necessary

New client-centered approach at State Trustees is necessary

Monday, 8 July 2019

'There can be few more potent examples of the imbalance of power ... than when the state assumes control over someone’s financial affairs' – Victorian Ombudsman

We welcome the recommendations made by the Victorian Ombudsman for State Trustees to be more accessible and rights-based in its work and the willingness of State Trustees to respond.

State Trustees looks after the financial affairs of around 10,000 Victorians who cannot manage their own money because of disability or mental health issues. It can collect people’s income and invest their savings, pay their bills and manage any legal issues associated with the person’s finances.

‘People with an administrator often tell us that it is intrusive and impacts on their sense of control over their own life. We want to work with State Trustees to ensure that our clients feel respected and that their quality of life is a priority to their administrator’, said Sonia Law, Program Manager of Mental Health and Disability Law.

We provided a number of stories about our clients’ experience with State Trustees in a submission to the inquiry in October 2018. Our contribution was drawn from our advice and casework with people who are subject to administration orders, where State Trustees is very often the administrator. In the 2017–18 financial year, we helped 250 people with administration orders; and gave legal information about orders in over 300 cases.

These cases were amongst those considered by the Ombudsman’s investigation, that was prompted by a surge of complaints received about State Trustees since 2015. The resulting report analysed 30 cases and found that in 23 there were instances of ‘poor financial management – lost entitlements, inaccurate budgets, late or incorrectly paid bills, mismanaged debts and fines, delays contributing to increased aged care fees and failure to pursue possible fraud and financial abuse’. In light of the Ombudsman’s investigation, State Trustees has compensated 13 clients, apologised to 11 and agreed to meet with others.

‘We urge State Trustees to work towards a rights-based framework to working with clients, many of whom are among the most powerless in our community. We are particularly pleased that State Trustees has commenced work on its first Disability Action Plan, will roll out human rights training to staff and is beginning a new client-centered program to address some of the flaws in its current case management model,’ said Sonia.

Our recommendations were aimed at State Trustees:

  • Supporting people to develop the skills to manage their own finances
  • acting competently in a represented person’s ‘best interests’ and in consultation
  • understanding the legal frameworks that determine the represented person’s rights and responsibilities (including in relation to debts, fines and Centrelink)
  • improving the responsiveness, appropriateness and accessibility of services
  • building a workforce and culture that can bring the principles and protections in the current and new Acts to life.

We also recommended improvements to the VCAT review process to make it a more meaningful safeguard.

‘We believe some of the new approaches committed to by State Trustees are a good start towards building a culture of consultation and supporting clients’ independence as much as possible,’ said Sonia.

More information

Read our submission to the Victorian Ombudsman

Read an Easy English version or the full Victorian Ombudsman’s report into the State Trustees.

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