Agency responds to pensioner’s squalor death stoush
A GOVERNMENT agency has waived fees and apologised to the family of a disabled pensioner who died in squalor at his northern NSW home.
The Bulletin in a report late last month revealed Steven Colley had spent the final months of his life in a Kingscliff home that was falling down around him after a decade-long battle to get the NSW Trustee and Guardian to approve repairs.
The 57-year-old's body was so decomposed when discovered in July last year that the Coroner could not determine the cause of death.
After the government agency refused to release the title of the home to the executor and waiver fees, Attwood Marshall Lawyers gave the Trustee a deadline or face court action.
The NSW Trustee and Guardian in a letter to the Coolangatta-based lawyers on Friday has waived fees totalling $31,876.
Its chief executive officer Adam Dent asking to "please pass on my sincere regret to your client for our handling of this matter".
"We recognise and acknowledge in relation to this trust we have not delivered services to an acceptable standard," Mr Dent wrote.
"This includes how we have responded to requests and the regularity of our communication. We apologise to Steven's family for this."
Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates solicitor Debbie Sage welcomed the decision, adding it was appropriate "given the hurt and distress caused to Steven's family".
"Attwood Marshall Lawyers are always ready to fight for families wronged by trustees and have done so for many years," Ms Sage said.
"Sadly, this case is one of many, and highlights the inability of the public trustee to do its job - and this failure is evident in both Queensland and NSW offices."
Mr Dent said the Trustee was not appointed as financial manager or guardian for Mr Colley, and it had no authority relating to his personal decisions including his health and lifestyle.
While the Trustee advanced funds for repair works including plumbing, pest control and guttering, it admitted it failed to progress fixing a leak in the verandah roof.
Mr Colley had suffered from depression, battled with emphysema and asthma, and was broke when he inherited his dad's house in 2010.
By July last year, relatives recall him being in a state of panic with the ageing brick home needing major restoration work.
The Trustee admitted it did not provide a regular statement of account reflecting its administration of the trust.
"NSW Trustee accepts that it should have been more proactive and responsive in its communications with Steven Colley and his family," Mr Dent wrote.
Mr Colley in 2010 inherited an estate which included the Yao Street property and just over $62,000 in cash.
But only months before his death, a real estate agent - after an inspection - was shocked. The agent described the property as "disgraceful" with ceiling sheets broken and coming away from the rear porch area, lights falling out of their fittings, flyscreens ripped and windows broken.
Mr Dent in his letter vowed the Trustee would improve its customer service.
"Please be assured I have personally reviewed this matter and recognise we have not communicated effectively or taken appropriate action on a number of occasions over the life of the trust," he said.
"Since my appointment as the Chief Executive Officer a little over a year ago, I have overseen a range of initiatives to improve the quality and timeliness of our customer service.
"While this may be of little comfort on this specific matter, I assure you that work has already commenced to improve resourcing, systems and the capability of the organisation. Importantly, this includes how we engage with our customers when delivering services."