Disgraceful death of disabled pensioner
A DISABLED pensioner died in squalor after a government agency failed to approve repairs to his Kingscliff home that fell apart around him.
The body of Steven Colley, 57, was so decomposed that the Coroner could not determine a cause of death.
He had been stressed and exhausted after an almost decade-long battle with the NSW Trustee and Guardian to approve repairs to leaking roofs and obtain compensation for excessive council water bills.
Mr Colley had suffered from depression, battled with emphysema and asthma, and was broke when he inherited his dad's house in 2010. The Trustee and Guardian began managing his affairs.
By July last year, the ageing brick home in need of major restoration work had beaten him.
"Steven was in a panic state," said Mick Beehag, his uncle from Coffs Harbour. "I had the police go around there on numerous occasions to do welfare checks on him.
"(I'd tell them) he's very lonely, he's extremely depressed, he's on anti-depressants, anything could happen."
Mr Colley died on July 5 last year. A neighbour earlier that day saw he was "short of breath".
In an ironic twist, his relatives are now embroiled in a legal battle after the Trustee and Guardian demanded $25,000 in commission fees, to be paid from the estate before they hand across the property.
Mr Colley's family said it had already paid $15,000 for a forensic clean of the house.
Lawyers are stunned after an earlier investigation by the Ombudsman, on behalf of Mr Colley, found the Trustee and Guardian had not followed up his complaints and requests for help.
The Ombudsman found the agency paid out three excessive water rates to the Tweed Shire Council between 2010 to 2011, and when it did identify there was an issue it took until August 2016 to seek a reduction in fees.
Inconsistent information was provided to Mr Beehag who could have potentially managed the trust on behalf of Mr Colley, the Ombudsman said.
The Trustee and Guardian later acknowledged that it was "clear the service level experienced by Mr Colley - in relation to roof repairs - was not to NSWTG's normal and expected standards".
The Ombudsman urged a face-to-face meeting with agency staff and Mr Colley in November 2017, and an action plan was created to improve communication and better service the trust.
Family members maintain the action plan was not followed, and they were advised because no money could be found in the trust that the house needed to be sold.
Mr Beehag maintained regular contact with the Trustee and Guardian's office and police as Mr Colley's health failed.
"How they could expect someone to live in that level of squalor is beyond me," he said. "I sent photographs on many occasions. I had them there twice. It beggars belief."
Two months before Mr Colley's death, a real estate agent who visited to inspect the property was shocked, emailing relatives that Steven did not appear to be motivated to live.
Ceiling sheets were broken and coming away from the rear porch area, lights falling out of their fittings, flyscreens ripped and windows broken.
"The property presents poorly - disgracefully really - both inside and out. I consider it a health hazard and question Steven's welfare," the real estate agent wrote.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates solicitor Debbie Sage believes there has been a "heavy breach of a fiduciary duty" to Mr Colley by the government agency.
"They mismanaged Steven's trust through their continued failure to act on his requests to
repair the condition of his property," Ms Sage said.
"Over time the condition of the building became worse as the required work remained
unresolved which resulted in further leakages and rotting as well as a mould infestation. The
condition of the property became a severe health hazard.
"Steven was living in squalor. It is unfair that they charged fees despite an admission to the NSW Ombudsman of their mismanagement of the trust.
"Due to their consistent and continued failure to act, NSW Trustee and Guardian is directly
responsible for the substandard conditions in which Steven lived at the time of his death."
Ms Sage said the NSWTG had issued an account of $25,000 which includes $15,000 commission based on the value of the property despite relatives having to handle the auction and clean-up.
The NSW Trustee and Guardian declined to comment on whether it would agree to waiver the fees and told the Bulletin the estate was being administered by a private executor and trustee.
"Any information pertaining to the administration of the trust for Mr Colley is subject to privacy laws and the common law duty of confidentiality. We are therefore unable to comment on this matter," a spokesperson said.