Trustee and Guardian in retreat over closures

The PSA has helped save three regional Trustee and Guardian offices slated for closure or a reduction in services.

In a move that would have pulled services from some of the state’s most vulnerable people, the Trustee and Guardian offices in Armidale, Bathurst, Broken Hill, Lismore, Gosford, Bankstown, Penrith, Burwood, Chatswood, Hurstville, Liverpool, Wollongong, Newcastle and Miranda were slated for closure or a severe reduction in services.

And with the exception of Parramatta and O’Connell Street in the City, all offices in the Sydney metropolitan area will be shut.

Lower-grade positions, predominantly held by women, were to be essentially eliminated.

However, pressure from the PSA, which was concerned about the Government’s business case, has reversed planned changes to the Broken Hill, Bathurst and Lismore offices.

The reversal is a result of pressure from PSA members; local communities and media; and MPs, one of whom stated, “I was pretty adamant that the decision be reviewed because I didn’t think it was a good one. Not just for our community, but for a couple of others as well. I couldn’t see the sense in the savings that they were trying to make.”

According to the Government’s initial plans, about 160 full-time positions – around a third of the Trustee and Guardian workforce – were to be cut, making services harder to access by clients, many of whom are elderly or have mental illnesses.

People requiring the Trustee and Guardian’s services in Broken Hill, for example, would have been required to access the Dubbo office – an eight-hour drive to the east. The PSA opposes the cuts and has taken its case to the Industrial Relations Commission.

In a major win for the PSA and its members, Commissioner Newell of the IRC determined that there would be:

  • no job losses across all of the NSW Trustee and Guardian until the completion and assessment of the pilot
  • no Trustee and Guardian employee should be forced into making a decision about their future until a final restructure establishment was in place
  • the pilot would be assessed by Commissioner Newell
  • a transparent, regular and genuine consultation process was required between management and PSA senior staff.

The PSA will continue to consult Trustee and Guardian management about staffing levels and the pilot.
The Trustee and Guardian conducts the financial affairs of people unable to control their own money, such as the elderly or those with mental impairment.

It provides such services as will-drafting; estate-administration; corporate and individual trusts; powers of attorney; substitute financial management services for people with decision-making disabilities subject to a Court or Tribunal order; authorising and directing the performance of private managers appointed by the Supreme Court or Guardianship Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal; and specialist services including funds management, taxation, legal counsel, property conveyancing, securities and genealogy.

These people will be left to the whims of private law firms if the Government continues to erode the Trustee and Guardian.

Funds managed by NSW Trustee and Guardian are held secure in the Common Fund, which stood at over $2.5 billion at 30 June 2013.

The changes are part of a review of Trustee and Guardian fees carried out by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Authority, which was handed down in November 2014.

However, the cuts come after what the PSA believes was a spending frenzy that depleted the Trustee and Guardian’s sizeable ‘war chest’ it inherited from the Public Trustee it absorbed in 2009.

Allegations of excess spending include:

  • pricey relocation of branch offices such as moving the Blacktown office to Penrith and new premises in Chatswood.

This involved communicating with all clients and changes to stationery and publications

  • breaking of current leases. In the case of Penrith and Blacktown, there is a double up on rent for at least 12 months
  • signing of 15-year leases when it was obvious that the branches would probably be closing
  • refurbishment of all the Trustee and Guardian branch offices with safe rooms to accommodate difficult clients and extravagant updates of furniture and fittings
  • up-to-date televisions in all branch offices – in some cases these televisions do not have connectivity to anything but free-to-air television stations
  • new iPads and iPhones for branches
  • opening a Bathurst branch amidst great fanfare only five years ago.

The PSA points out there has been no rural impact study on the move, which will have a drastic effect on the lives of people in country NSW.

The technological changes used to justify the moves will also take longer to implement, particularly as many users of the Trustee and Guardian’s services will not be as IT-savvy as most NSW residents.
Reports on the ABC confirmed the PSA’s stance that cutbacks would adversely affect people with mental illness, brain injuries, dementia and those who are homeless.

The PSA also pointed out that cuts in local services have an adverse effect on local communities, businesses and families.

It is little surprise organisations such as Alzheimer’s Australia have also voiced their concerns.
The cuts to the Trustee and Guardian come at the same time when the Age Discrimination Commissioner is warning of the vulnerabilities older Australians are facing.

It has become increasingly evident that the business case has been put together in a reckless and poorly thought out way, and the PSA has successfully placed on hold the Baird Government’s decision to cut back the Trustee and Guardian.

The PSA’s concerns include:

  • a lack of consultation
  • workload issues
  • service delivery
  • the absence of a rural impact study
  • no impact study on the effect on vulnerable community members
  • the improbability of a pilot based on a program which has yet to be developed
  • concerns about the business case’s methodology.

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