A day in the life of an Investigations Officer
It’s a busy day ahead, so I take some time now to check my email. The most important thing to pop up is a referral from a bank regarding one of their elderly customers, Gerald.*
The bank became suspicious when Gerald’s son, Jamie, who held an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPoA), applied to break one of Gerald’s term deposits to pay the arrears on fees for Gerald’s nursing home. On further investigation, they found significant withdrawals totalling $12,000, many of which were out of character for a resident of an aged care facility.
The bank has frozen all Gerald’s accounts, and we will now begin an investigation to determine if Jamie is financially abusing Gerald, and should have his financial powers under the EPoA suspended pending a formal decision from the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).
Time to head to QCAT for a hearing. This is another case where the allegations originated from a bank. In this case staff were concerned about a customer in her 90s, Joan, who often came into the branch with her son Len. She had frequently commented to staff that she didn’t want Len accessing her funds, but one day he came in with an EPoA granting him immediate power for financial matters. Bank staff told Len they would need to check the validity of the EPoA and then immediately contacted us.
Through our investigation, which also involved talking with Joan’s social worker, we determined that Joan was unable to make decisions freely and voluntarily due to Len’s influence, and were able to suspend his financial powers under the EPoA, with the Public Trustee stepping in as financial administrator in the interim. The purpose of the hearing today is to request that the Public Trustee is formally appointed as Joan’s administrator for financial matters. The hearing concludes with QCAT appointing the Public Trustee, effectively curtailing Len’s access to his mother’s funds.
Back in the office, and I have a small window to catch up on a few things and grab some lunch before heading out on a visit this afternoon.
I get some good news when I discover the outcome of a criminal case that was finalised in court yesterday. I conducted an investigation into the actions of a woman, Michelle,* who was acting under an EPoA for her mother, Linda.*
It transpired that Michelle was using her mother’s money for her own purposes, which left her mother in dire neglect. So as well as suspending her financial power of attorney, we referred her case to the Queensland Police Service. Michelle has just been found guilty of fraud, and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.
I meet up with my colleague, and we head out to a client visit. For safety reasons we always go out on visits in pairs, as you never know what exactly you might encounter. The exception would be if we are visiting a client in a residential facility, such as a nursing home.
I would also generally plan ahead so that I can visit several clients in one outing, but this is an urgent case requiring an immediate visit. Concerns have been raised that a 45 year old woman, Sarah, is living in a home environment that is unsafe and a health hazard due to vermin, and she isn’t receiving adequate services at home.
Sarah lives in her home with her daughter Alina. Alina is her primary care giver, but there is no formal decision maker appointed. Before we enter the house we meet up with the Mental Health Support facilitator and representatives from the council and the RSPCA, and are briefed by a representative from Centacare Community, who raised the issue with us.
When we enter the house we find it in a state of absolute squalor, with rubbish such as rotting food, empty drinks cans and bottles, takeaway wrappers and dirty clothes piled up knee high in some places. Access to the cupboards, dishwasher, oven and fridge is obstructed by the rubbish, and the cat litter tray extremely dirty.
After getting back to the office I start work on an urgent interim application to QCAT. I am recommending that the Public Guardian is appointed as Sarah’s guardian, as there is an immediate and continuing risk to Sarah’s health if the home is not maintained in a hygienic way.
If the Public Guardian is appointed, we will be able to consent to an extensive clean to remove what could well be excess of two tonnes of rubbish from Sarah’s home. We’ll also be able to be sure that a cleaner is engaged on a regular basis – in the past Sarah had withdrawn consents at the last minute when services were made available.
An appointment of the Public Guardian will mean that going forward Sarah’s needs will be adequately met and her interests protected.
*All names have been changed to protect identities.
Read about a real life OPG investigator in our 'in conversation with...' segment.