A public statement from the Public Trustee of Queensland
14 March 2022
On 9 March 2022, the Public Trustee of Queensland provided the below statement to Four Corners.
Statement from the Public Trustee of Queensland
Our aim at the Public Trustee of Queensland is to enhance and protect the human rights and dignity of all Queenslanders, providing an essential service and playing an important role for people who are not in a position to manage their own financial interests.
It is a responsibility we take very seriously — one that has led the Public Trustee to make significant and far-reaching changes across the organisation in line with our Customers First Agenda and Strategy, which place a focus on continuing to review and improve the Public Trustee customer experience and customer outcomes.
This includes a strengthened focus on customer-centric service delivery, educating communities about advanced life planning, and protecting Queenslanders from elder abuse, while continuing to increase transparency and accountability.
The Public Advocate Report and implementing our Customers First Agenda
Importantly, the Public Advocate reported on an extensive review into the fees, charges and practices of the Public Trustee a little more than 12 months ago.
The Public Advocate is an independent, Government-appointed statutory officer who protects and promotes the rights of Queensland adults with impaired decision-making capacity through systems advocacy.
The Report by the Public Advocate noted that the Public Trustee’s comprehensive reform agenda includes increasing transparency, and undertaking a review of fees and charges to ensure they are fair, reasonable and sustainable. These reforms meant the Public Trustee was already well on the way to meeting many of the Report’s 32 recommendations. The Public Advocate also acknowledged that many of the Public Trustee’s customers appear to receive a high level of service for very little or no cost.
However, opportunities for improvement were identified in the way the Public Trustee engages with its customers, and the need for greater transparency regarding fees and charges.
Following the release of the Report, I apologised to affected customers who may not have received the level of service expected.
We have recently released a detailed update on more than 30 key initiatives that are evolving the organisation into a more modern, customer-centric, ethical and sustainable organisation. The details can be found below and on our website.
We took immediate action to reduce customer fees by removing their primary residence and certain financial advice from fee calculations, saving at least $1 million for customers each year.
Other significant improvements made by the Public Trustee since the introduction of our Customers First Agenda include:
- Establishing the Customer Advocate Office, which is dedicated to furthering outcomes for customers, and their support networks, keeping their views, wishes and preferences at the forefront of our decisions and actions
- Introducing the Financial Independence Pathway Program, which is designed to support customers to increase their ability to manage their own funds and apply for a declaration of capacity with QCAT, removing the need for the Public Trustee's appointment entirely
- Establishing a dedicated Official Solicitor role for advising on customer matters that is focused on obtaining improved outcomes for customers
- Establishing a new expert panel to provide guidance for the Official Solicitor that is dedicated to keeping customer needs at the centre of our decision-making.
These and other initiatives under the Public Trustee’s Customers First Agenda will have a positive impact now, and into the future.
Meeting the needs of our customers
The Public Trustee understands that the customers’ situations depicted in the report by Four Corners will demonstrate the often complex financial, legal and personal arrangements the Public Trustee must impartially navigate and manage. The Public Trustee takes its commitment to customer confidentiality very seriously and cannot talk publicly about individual cases. The Public Trustee does, however, at all times remain willing to discuss customer matters directly with the customers involved and their support networks.
Four Corners has brought to the Public Trustee’s attention matters not previously raised. We acknowledge the experience of the individuals and have commissioned a priority review of these matters under our independent complaint review mechanism. An external expert will conduct the review.
We also acknowledge that where the Public Trustee is appointed to make decisions in the interests of those who are unable to make decisions on their own behalf, this can be at a difficult time for everyone involved. Our customers and their support networks understandably may feel aggrieved that they no longer have control of the customer's financial affairs. However, without the Public Trustee's support, such customers may be at risk of exploitation or neglect.
In making decisions for customers, we use a new industry-leading structured decision-making framework which incorporates the consideration of the views, wishes and preferences of customers, and consultation with their support network.
Financial matters for our customers
The Public Trustee does not profit from financial administration clients. Our fees and charges, which are published on our website, are based on many factors including the complexity and level of support required.
The Public Trustee has a comprehensive fee rebate scheme, called Community Service Obligations, which benefits up to 82 per cent of its customers with reduced (or rebated) fees. Over the 2020-2021 Financial Year, the Public Trustee provided $32 million in rebated fees to customers.
All investment activities undertaken by the Public Trustee on behalf of customers are to ensure they obtain the benefit of increased investment returns through economy of scale and structured investment strategies. This includes the procurement of external financial planning services. These activities are informed by the customer’s preferences, customer needs and independent, expert financial advice, where applicable.
We recognise that it is important that we test the market so as to ensure that our customers continue to receive affordable and quality services. To support this, we are currently conducting an open tender process for the procurement of value for money financial advice services for our customers into the future.
Like all financial investments, investments by the Public Trustee on behalf of customers can be impacted by challenging periods such as the Global Financial Crisis when some investments provided negative returns. However, throughout the GFC, the Public Trustee’s funds performed within the median range of comparable funds.
In addition to distributing investment returns to customers, the Public Trustee also utilises part of its investment returns, known as an “interest differential”, to fund its operations and services.
There has been a clear legislative intent by successive State Governments that the Public Trustee remains self-sufficient and operates without taxpayer expense through access to the "interest differential". Funds raised are used to support our Community Service Obligations, and are raised modestly and from a broad base of services provided.
The decision as to the appropriate interest to be credited to customers (which directly impacts the size of the surplus retained in the Common Fund), has also been determined and supported by successive State Governments.
We are working hard to transform into a more modern, customer-centric organisation, and while much positive change has already occurred — especially in terms of our engagement with customers and seeking and supporting their input into decisions affecting their lives — there is still work to be done.
In 2022, we will continue our work on a range of initiatives established under our Customers First Agenda and Strategy, and aligned with the Public Advocate’s recommendations.
This includes responding to an independent review of the Public Trustee’s fees and charges currently being undertaken by a specialist consultant and to be completed in June of this year.
We welcome the opportunity to continue our important work with Government and the newly appointed Public Trustee Board which will provide oversight and accountability in our operations for our customers. We will also utilise customer feedback to help us continue to improve.
The Public Trustee will continue its work with a determination to be a dependable and responsive organisation to the Queensland community, while creating positive social impact.