27 September 2023

Public Trustee’s fee system questioned

Start the conversation

A performance audit of the Public Trustee has found a regime of high fees, inadequate fee communication and timeliness in finalising estates.

Tabling her report, Public Trustee’s Administration of Trusts and Deceased Estates, in Parliament, Auditor General, Caroline Spencer said the Public Trustee played an important role in the lives of thousands of Western Australians, managing more than $1.4 billion of their assets.

“The audit found that although fees are charged in accordance with the gazetted fee schedule, some trust clients are charged large fees for relatively little work performed on their behalf,” Ms Spencer said.

“The Public Trustee needs to better inform its trust clients of both what could be charged and what has been charged to their accounts.”

She said it was important that as a financial manager the Public Trustee clearly communicate its fees to trust clients.

Ms Spencer said that under the Public Trustee’s current funding model, some clients did not just pay for the services they used, but also subsidised the costs of those who couldn’t pay.

“While people should pay for the services they receive, it is not fair for a public institution, entrusted to act in their best interests, to have them unknowingly subsidise others,” Ms Spencer said.

“This is not appropriate!”

She said the Public Trustee had not met its own target timeframe for finalising deceased estates, with almost half the estates in three of the past five years taking more than 12 months to finalise.

“This means beneficiaries are waiting longer for proceeds to be distributed to them,” Ms Spencer said.

“This audit has revealed an urgent need for Government to review the Public Trustee’s funding and oversight model, to align it with governance arrangements for other State Government entities that hold private monies in trust and deliver essential services under community service obligations.”

She said the Public Trustee’s ‘self-funding’ model, which had an inherent incentive to maximise fees from clients with the capacity to pay, needed particular examination.

“Other entities in Western Australia delivering essential services on a fee-for-service basis are subject to close scrutiny of their service standards and performance and have an independent governing board,” Ms Spencer said.

“The Public Trustee does not receive this type of scrutiny or oversight, and it is quite clear that its current governance arrangements do not reflect modern expectations around public accountability.”

The Auditor General’s 23- page report can be accessed at this PS News link and the audit team was Aloha Morrissey, Jordan Langford-Smith and Adam Dias.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.