Some of Victoria’s most vulnerable people have been failed by the state agency in charge of managing their finances, including one woman whose life possessions were sent to the tip, a damning probe has found.
Victorian ombudsman Deborah Glass has recommended that state government funding for the State Trustees and its status as a state-owned company be reviewed, in her investigation tabled in parliament on Thursday.
She reviewed the cases of 30 State Trustees clients in depth and found 23 contained evidence of poor financial management.
They included a woman whose life possessions were sent to the tip, an elderly man who had more than $2000 taken from his account to pay for someone else’s fines, and a person whose file was handled by up to 48 different staff in 14 months.
Glass found multiple instances where the agency failed to ensure client bills, expenses and aged care bonds were paid on time, and neglected to consult them over their wishes for their finances.
It also reduced clients’ quality of life by placing them on restricted budgets when they had entitlements that could have been claimed.
Glass acknowledged many staff are trying to do the right thing in often challenging circumstances, but “the evidence of dissatisfaction, directly impacting on State Trustee clients’ quality of life, is too substantial to be treated as other than systemic”.
“At the heart of these issues is an overwhelming sense of powerlessness,” she said in her report.
“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.”
State Trustees, a state-owned company whose sole shareholder is the treasurer, looks after finances for about 10,000 Victorians unable to manage their own affairs due to disability, illness or injury.
Glass found no evidence of individual decisions being made for commercial reasons, but said commercial pressures limited the service as a whole.
She made 14 recommendations to the State Trustees and state government departments, including a review of its funding and governance and status as a state-owned company. They have been accepted in full or in principle.
Following the investigation, State Trustees has paid or reimbursed around $65,000 to 13 clients, apologised to 11 clients and agreed to meet or consult with five clients.
Glass said her office has already noted progress after raising the issues, and welcomed the new chief executive’s pledge to make improvements.
Last July, the State Trustees board sacked its previous chief executive Craig Dent after an independent investigation substantiated seven misconduct allegations.
Victoria’s corruption watchdog IBAC has asked State Trustees to refer its former boss to police over allegations he misused public funds.
Dent stood aside in February last year and publicly denied wrongdoing.Do you have an idea for a story?
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