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Public Trustee - Client Engagement

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Friday, 2 December 2022

Tags: Public Trustee

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Mr Kennedy. One of the concerns that has been flagged by Advocacy Tasmania is that there still exists a situation where people's phone calls aren't being answered and they're not able to talk directly to an account manager about their financial affairs. They've cited situations where people have told them that they've had a barrier, it has been resolved and it's been escalated to the CEO. I want to commend Mr Kennedy for stepping in. The point Advocacy Tasmania has made is that you are not able, Mr Kennedy, to be there all the time so a cultural issue still remains. What processes, through you minister, are you putting in place, Mr Kennedy, when something has had to be escalated to you, they have identified a problem, possibly a cultural problem, what is the direct process for that staff member that you use?

Mr KENNEDY - It comes back to resourcing. I'd say that the culture of the organisation, the staff are doing the best that they can with the caseloads that they have. They are very dedicated and hard working. I want to note that the role is important but also challenging. I think my actions are representative of the actions and the intent of all of the staff. What we've heard loud and clear is, because of the volume of inquiries that they got, and I acknowledge that we have had recent turnover where we have not been responsive, it has been difficult to get through on the phone and have your query attended to. I don't think that's a cultural thing. It is more around appropriately resourcing our people and getting the caseloads down so we can be more responsive.

Ms ARCHER - Which is being addressed.

Ms HADDAD - Minister, thinking about people who are having their financial affairs administered by the Public Trustee, there are increasing examples of billing errors. For example, Aurora was in Estimates this week talking about the difficulties with its new billing system. Lots of people have had incorrect bills issued to them. That's something they're dealing with in their GBE. What steps are taken on a routine day-to-day basis to make sure accounts are accurate before they're paid, or is paying the accounts much more of routine reflex action? What information is given to representative persons about those bills in their annual reports to the clients? Is it just, for example, 'We paid your Aurora bill, we paid your gas bill' or is there itemised information about each of the bills so that the clients might be able to keep a track of where there might be incorrect billing or something they did not expect?

Ms ARCHER - Again operational.

Mr KENNEDY - I will try to answer the first part of the question. The second part I might need to take on notice unless one of my colleagues can provide an answer.

The staff are very vigilant and proactively looking for anomalies when it comes to the client's accounts, be it bills or spending patterns. A recent example, which was less about the bill issue and more about elder abuse, which is unfortunately on the rise, was where our client account managers often pick up where family members or people are actually spending money, which is an anomaly. Yes, they do look at the bills. It is not a process where they are just automatically paying things. If I come back to the resourcing issue, people can only do so much with the support we provide. There are areas that need to improve and I acknowledge that. We are working really hard to address it. A key part of it is to make sure the case loads are manageable.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, through you to Mr Kennedy, how often does the Public Trustee proactively reach out to people they are representing to specifically encourage them or assist them to become capable of managing their own estate and to understand their wishes, particularly in relation to a decision that they have made?

Ms ARCHER - You mean affairs not estate?

Dr WOODRUFF - Affairs? Yes.

Mr KENNEDY - I would describe our process historically as more reactive. That's based on what I've talked about before. In relation to building capacity and financial independence, the program that we are building will specifically address that, so that it is a proactive approach. In the past, though, we have worked with clients day by day, giving them the opportunity, but we can do a lot more in that space. We definitely need to be more proactive and have more of a comprehensive program, which is the idea of the financial independence program.

In relation to the client's will and preference, there are new KPIs making sure that we are sitting down with clients when we first meet with them, establishing what these are, getting to know them, and also doing that on a regular basis so that there is a review mechanism.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, if a represented person does not contact the Public Trustee, how long would it be before the Public Trustee reached out and proactively engaged with that person?

Mr KENNEDY - Back to the question earlier, at the moment - or historically - that would be at a minimum on an annual basis, which is where we need to be more proactive, so that staff have the opportunity, and we have clear processes around what that program looks like.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Mr Kennedy. Minister, when the Public Trustee is managing handovers between employees - and there will be a lot of that happening, also with new people coming on - how does the Trustee ensure that people's individual stories are maintained in that process, and people are not required to go through everything from the beginning again - which, depending on how a person is, can be very draining.

Ms ARCHER - Yes, and re-traumatising in some circumstances.

Dr WOODRUFF - Possibly, yes.

Mr KENNEDY - We capture and record that key information in the client profile, so that it is available for the new client account manager who takes over that account. Again, it is an area we can do more in. If you have a small team with a high case load, the handovers are very quick. With turnover, it could mean that person is meeting with two or three different people in a short period of time.

We really want a relationship-based model, whereby there is continuity in the workforce, clients become comfortable, they get to know someone - but also, if we have the time, we can do a more personal handover than relying on what is recorded in our client system.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I'm not sure if this was answered, I don't think it was answered in this respect. The Public Trustee annual report shows that just over half the complaints made in 2021 22 have been substantiated, compared to 7 per cent in the previous financial year. I know there have been lots of changes. Perhaps Mr Kennedy could talk through the change in the complaint handling process and why it has resulted in such a substantial increase from 7 per cent to nearly over 50 per cent. What else is happening here?

Mr KENNEDY - Our complaints process hasn't changed in the sense that it's had an impacted on substantiated versus unsubstantiated complaints. What has happened, though, is that we had a bit of a spike in complaints, and I think that's come about for a number of reasons. One is, we really opened ourselves up and encouraged people to come forward with any issues to give us an opportunity to work with them to resolve. There has also been a lot of media and on the back of the media, in particular Four Corners, there were a lot of complaints that came through. It is not reflective of a change in our practice that we are finding a number that are unsubstantiated.

Ms ARCHER - The Four Corners program was not in relation to the Tasmanian system but it did highlight some systemic issues across the nation.

Dr WOODRUFF - Given the Bugg review, given everything you have just said about the reasons that people feel able to come forward now or have been able to come forward, are you going to go back and review previous complaints that were found to have not been substantiated with the new approach of the Public Trustee in being more open and listening to people?

Mr KENNEDY - What we have done is ask people to come forward if there are any unresolved issues and we have done a lot of work inviting people to do that. We have reached out to advocacy groups, stakeholders and said if there are any clients, even constituent matters and provided our personal details so that we can look at those.

We have not gone through and done a historical exercise though, around looking through complaints. We have more said, okay if there is anything unresolved, we are open to looking at things.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I want to make a comment at this point of how grateful I am on behalf of Tasmanians for the change in culture here. There are obviously many things that need to be fixed. We do not resile from that and we won't stop speaking for people, but it really is a dramatic change in culture. The proactiveness as opposed to reactiveness is very welcome to see.

Ms ARCHER - I should also mention - and the Chair has been sitting here patiently - but there has been a significant shift in relation to the board level as well. Obviously, Ms Taylor, shortly before becoming the Chair, was acting chair so has been in the role for a little while now, overseeing all of this and working very closely with Mr Kennedy. I would like to highlight and thank the board's involvement, particularly our new Chair, Ms Taylor, on the work they are doing, because that structural reform often happens at board level as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - If people do not contact the Public Trustee they are at the moment contacted once a year. What information is provided to people as part of their annual reporting? Is that information purely financial? Is there any conversation with represented people about the sort of information they would like to receive from the Trustee on an annual basis?

Ms ARCHER - I'd imagine that is part of the stakeholder conversation.

Mr KENNEDY - Part of the work that we are doing is around redesigning what our previous practices have been. What we would like it to look like is still in progress and what clients, more importantly, want it to look like. I cannot really comment on what it has been historically as far as to the contents of the statement but I am happy to take that on notice and provide it.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay, thank you.