Vulnerable denied own money, ripped off by Public Trustee

Hundreds of vulnerable Queenslanders have been overcharged by the state's Public Trustee with a damning report raising "serious issues" about how the authority manages its clients' money.

The shocking report details incidents where the embattled office of the Public Trustee overcharged vulnerable clients, worked against their interests and made questionable financial decisions.

The statutory authority is tasked with managing deceased estates and the finances of vulnerable people with impaired decision-making capacity and nobody else to turn to.

A review was first launched into the Public Trustee's fees in 2018, however, the investigation expanded after "serious issues" were raised.

It found a complex set of fees and charges, a lack of transparency and questionable use of professional advice to justify investments in its own products.

The review, authored by Public Advocate Mary Burgess, said the Public Trustee had a policy to "rob Peter to pay Paul".

"For some clients, the Public Trustee's commitment to self-funding and sustainability has been achieved at the expense of their own financial outcomes," the report noted.

"They were paying a premium on their fees to help fund services the Public Trustee was providing to other people."

In one case, the Public Trustee sought external legal advice for a client to make a "quite straightforward" application to access total permanent disability insurance.

The legal claim cost the client $11,000 of his $120,000 payout, raising concerns the Public Trustee had "adopted a practice" of referring out work that could be performed by an external provider.

On several occasions the Public Trustee also attempted to block attempts by clients to take back control of their funds - claiming in some occasions they lacked capacity.

Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman has announced an oversight committee to monitor the Public Trustee. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman has announced an oversight committee to monitor the Public Trustee. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

 

Each year the government authority provides financial management services to more than 10,000 Queenslanders, including more than 9300 people who solely rely on the authority to manage their cash.

Ms Burgess said it was "disappointing" the Public Trustee responded to her investigations by noting only "a very small cohort" of clients were affected.

"When dealing with vulnerable people or breaches of human rights or fiduciary duties, the responsibilities of state agencies and fiduciaries are strict," she said.

"No breach can be justified on the basis of … 'the greatest good for the greatest number.'"

"Any breach of a person's rights … is one breach too many."

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman revealed the State Government would establish a Public Trustee Board to provide oversight and direction to the office.

"The board will improve the Public Trustee's performance, transparency and accountability, and enhance public confidence in this valuable service," she said.

"It is clear that the agency needs to be more transparent about its fees and charges."

The Public Trustee has pledged to increase transparency, simplify its cost structure and have a renewed focus on customers.

Originally published as Vulnerable denied own money, ripped off by Public Trustee


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