Review of Public Trustee fees, charges and practices
The Public Advocate's report Preserving the financial futures of vulnerable Queenslanders: A review of Public Trustee fees, charges and practices was tabled in the Queensland Parliament by Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Honourable Shannon Fentiman MP on 10 March 2021.
An Executive Summary of the report has also been released.
At the time of tabling, the Attorney-General announced that the government accepts in principle the majority of the 32 recommendations in the report and would undertake further consultation with stakeholders. As a first step, the Attorney-General announced the government will establish a Public Trustee board to provide oversight and direction to the Public Trustee and increase its transparency and accountability.
The Public Advocate welcomes the government's response.
The Public Advocate undertook the review in response to concerns expressed by people with impaired decision-making capacity under administration with the Public Trustee and their supporters about the negative impact of the Public Trustee's fees and charges on their financial outcomes.
The Public Advocate released a media statement and the following video about the release of the report.
The review revealed a range of Public Trustee fees, policies and practices that suggest that the Public Trustee is breaching some of its legal and fiduciary duties and may fall short of community expectations of a public trustee agency. These included:
- the level and complexity of the Public Trustee's system of fees and charges, including charging multiple fees to manage the same funds
- a lack of transparency about the Public Trustee's fees, charges and investment practices
- whether the fees reflect the cost of providing the services to administration clients or whether they are paying a premium on their fees to subsidise other Public Trustee services and activities including its community service obligations
- the practice of routinely obtaining and charging clients for potentially unnecessary independent financial advice that invariably recommends investing client funds in Public Trustee products in accordance with its prescribed investment approach
- the Public Trustee earning revenue from its clients' funds, and
- the way Public Trustee uses the Official Solicitor and charges legal fees to clients.
The Public Advocate is yet to review the government's formal response to the report. The report raises some significant and complex issues that will require careful consideration in order to properly implement them and ensure the rights and interests of people under administration with the Public Trustee and being upheld.
The Attorney-General referred to the Public Trustee's extensive program of reform that is currently underway. This work is welcomed by the Public Advocate. However, this work does not address some of the significant issues that were identified in the report, particularly those relating to breaches of fiduciary duty.
The government needs to act swiftly to ensure the Public Trustee immediately ceases all practices that constitute breaches of fiduciary duty and other unacceptable practices. It is important to remember that vulnerable people are suffering now from the impacts of these poor policies and practices, and need relief.
The Public Advocate looks forward to contributing to the stakeholder consultation about the Public Trustee reforms announced by the Attorney-General and working with the government to ensure that the rights and interests of people with impaired decision-making capacity are central to any reforms implemented.