Public hearing 26 - Homelessness, including experience in boarding houses, hostels and other arrangements, Parramatta - Day 4
CHAIR: Good morning, everybody. I welcome everybody who is present in the hearing room or who will be following the proceedings on the live stream. This is the fourth day of our hearing being conducted at the Park Royal Hotel in Parramatta, and we are focusing on the experiences of people with disability who have been homeless or at risk of homelessness, and over the next couple of days we will be having a particular look at the operation of houses in Victoria, boarding houses known as Supported Residential Services or SRSs.
We will commence with the Acknowledgment of Country and on behalf of the Commission and the commissioners I wish to acknowledge the Dharug people, the traditional custodians of the land upon which this hearing is taking place. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We also pay our respects to all First Nations people who may be attending the hearing in person today, as well as those who are following the proceedings on the live stream. Yes, Ms Bennett.
MS BENNETT: Yes, Commissioners. The second part of Public Hearing 26 will examine Supported Residential Services or SRSs in Victoria. Commissioners, most publicly supported housing in Victoria is provided in the form of public and community housing which provides accommodation to about 20,000 people who receive the Disability Support Pension, that being 40 per cent of all rebated tenancies. We are told that a further 2,000 homes accompanied by support for Victorians with mental illness will be delivered by the end of this year.
In addition, there are five and a half thousand operational places residential aged-care services provided as part of the public sector residential aged-care service. Residents in this category, Commissioner, are intended to be over 65 years of age. The Australian Government strategy, Younger People in Residential Aged Care strategy, is aimed at ensuring that no person under 65 lives in residential aged care, absent exceptional circumstances.
Separately, people with a disability can access Specialist Disability Accommodation, or SDA, being accommodation for people with extreme functional impairment or high support needs. Outside these broad categories, Commissioners, there are Supported Residential Services. SRSs are privately owned and operated facilities that provide accommodation and support for people who require assistance with everyday living, including people with disability. They are intended, Commissioners, to offer a supported accommodation option for people who need some support but are not eligible for or able to access government-funded accommodation.
Most SRSs are known as pension level, that is, SRSs which charge fees based on the current rate of pension, plus the amount of Commonwealth rent assistance. This is usually between 85 to 95 per cent of the resident's pension, plus 100 per cent of the Commonwealth rent assistance. This equates to fees of between $900 to $1,000 per fortnight.
We understand, Commissioners, that there was a sharp decline in the number of pension level SRSs in Victoria between the years of 1997 and 2005, with more than 1,500 beds in the sector lost in that period. I say beds rather than rooms, Commissioners, because many people living in SRSs are required to share rooms. Poor financial viability was cited as the main reason for that decline. We understand there are currently 114 registered SRSs in Victoria with capacity to provide accommodation to 4,000 people.
At the time of a census and resident experience survey carried out in 2018, 79 per cent of SRS residents had a disability, including a psychosocial disability. The Victorian Government provides $13.6 million of funding to SRSs each year to pension level SRSs through two funding programs: The Supported Accommodation for Vulnerable Victorians Initiative, known as SAVVI, a funding source that was introduced in 2006 to assist the viability of pension level SRSs; or the Pension Level Project, or PLP, funding which supports pension level SRSs that don't receive SAVVI funding.
That funding is intended to assist in capacity building or standards improvement. Commissioners, SRSs operate under the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Act of 2010 and the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Regulations of 2012. SRSs can only be registered where the secretary or their delegate registers the premises, having decided that the building site is suitable, and the applicant or each director or other officer that exercises control over the applicant is suitable to and has the relevant skills and knowledge to operate that SRS.
Once registered, the SRS can receive residents. Each resident must have a written agreement with the proprietor and an interim support plan within 48 hours. An ongoing support plan must be in place within 28 days. The proprietor must consult with the resident about the content of that support plan and identify ongoing health and personal support needs of the resident and the supports that will be provided to the resident to assist with those needs.
Importantly, Commissioners, the proprietor must ensure the resident support plan is carried out as prepared. Failure to do so carries substantial penalties. Although, as you will hear, in the 12 years that SRS legislation has been in place, there has been no successful prosecution under the SRS Act, and only very recently has the first prosecution been initiated. There must, under the legislation, be one staff member for every 30 residents at an SRS. They must be appropriately trained, which is at least a Certificate III or IV level qualification.
The SRS must maintain must deliver the minimum standards set out in the regulations, including requirements about independence and choice; protection from abuse; standards of food, safety, and cleanliness. There are questions, Commissioners, about whether the qualifications, capacity, and staffing levels are sufficient to provide the supports required by the SRS Act and Regulations. Those questions will be explored at a systemic level through witnesses like ‘Bel’. ‘Bel’ has been a resident of an SRS for a number of years. Her ongoing support plan currently states:
“She needs staff to do her laundry twice per week. Her room is always very messy, needs staff to spend time to tidy and organise room every day. Her bed sheet needs changed every second week. Her room also needs to be vacuumed twice per week.”
The Commissioners will find that plan at Bundle B3 at tab 25. Commissioners, noting that ‘Bel’ could choose to refuse people to allow people into her room, and recalling that this is not a hearing where we are calling upon this Royal Commission to make specific findings of fact, the photographs taken in ‘Bel’'s room just last month cast some doubt upon whether those obligations are taken as seriously as they might be. The operator might show document ending 0006, which has recently been tendered as Exhibit 2.
This is the recent state of ‘Bel’'s room. Another photograph, your Honour, of the same room at 0003, Exhibit 1, shows the same room from another angle. People with a disability living in an SRS may also receive funding under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The NDIS Insurance Agency estimates around 1,600 NDIS participants live in SRSs. The average annual plan budget for these participants is $128,000 per participant.
For example, ‘Bel’, whose room the Commissioners just saw, has an NDIS package which includes core supports. And the Commissioners will find that at tab 18 of B3. Those core supports include:
“Funding to assist you with your daily personal care needs, domestic tasks, and financial management.”
Records provided to the Royal Commission suggests that under her previous plan, more than $63,000 was spent on ‘Bel’'s behalf as assistance with daily life. And the Commissioners will find that accounting at tab 19 of folder B3.
These substantial funds expended on assistance with self-care was charged by an NDIS service provider. That service provider has the same operating address as the SRS and has directors in common with the SRS where ‘Bel’ resides. Commissioners, this raises obvious questions who is regulating the proper provision of these services and whether there are any issues arising of this method of organising the provision of supports.
These questions are magnified, Commissioners, when we see the state of another SRS, Hambleton House. An administrator appointed last year to that was appointed last year, Commissioners, and this is what they found, if the operator would show the document ending in 0094. And, Commissioners, this is Exhibit 3. I ask the operator to zoom in on the photographs. And I will ask the operator to slowly scroll through those photographs.
Commissioners, we will examine what if any arrangements exist for monitoring the potential for overlap between the services under these dual arrangements, what steps are taken to ensure that residents are not paying twice for the same service or paying twice and receiving no service at all. A central question that is likely to emerge from this evidence is whether the current pension level SRS model is financially viable and adequate to meet the care and support needs of the people who live in these facilities, having regard to the level of care and support required by the cohort of people accessing SRS support, the prescribed minimum resident to staff ratio being 30 to one, and the prescribed minimum qualifications, skills and experience of the staff.
I will pause there and ask the operator to bring down the photographs.
In order to provide the required level of services to residents, SRS proprietors must maintain occupancy rates and find alternative sources of income or opportunities to cross subsidise in a wider organisation. Commissioners, does this encourage proprietors to cut corners or otherwise fail to comply with the requirements of the SRS regulatory regime? These issues may present risks to SRS participants. The pressure to maintain occupancy rates could encourage an SRS to accept a prospective resident without properly considering their care and support needs and the ability of staff to meet those needs or if a person will fit with the existing residents.
The objectives of the SRS Act and the SRS Regulations is to protect the safety and wellbeing of residents living in is to protect the safety and wellbeing of residents in SRSs. The risks posed to residents by proprietors who fail to comply with the regulatory regime or cut corners are obvious. Provision is made within the legislation for a series of escalating compliance and enforcement mechanisms. The Royal Commission will hear evidence about these mechanisms and the circumstances in which they are deployed.
The evidence may suggest that there is a tension or a balancing exercise between taking effective compliance and enforcement action in the face of non-compliance and acknowledging the role SRSs presently play in providing accommodation to people who might otherwise be homeless. And a fundamental question arises: Has the right balance been struck. The rollout of the NDIS is an example of an alternative revenue stream. A number of SRS proprietors or entities related to those proprietors now operate as registered or unregistered NDIS providers.
In that capacity, the NDIS providers deliver NDIS-funded supports and services to SRS residents which can bear a striking resemblance to the services an SRS provider is also required to provide. Community visitors, the Public Advocate and others have expressed concern about the lack of transparency and the potential for conflict of interest in these dual arrangements. Concerns have also been expressed about the impact the dual arrangements may have on the services provided to residents and their capacity to exercise choice and control.
The Royal Commission will hear from four witnesses with lived or direct experience of SRSs, including one witness who currently lives in an SRS and one who only very recently transferred to Supported Independent Living accommodation. We will shortly begin Commissioners with evidence from Denise, and while the audio recording plays, you will see a slide show displays photographs of Denise. She lived at Hambleton House for a number of years, and she will tell but that experience, including about the COVID 19 outbreak in August 2020 and her subsequent evacuation.
You will then hear Kate Rice, the General Manager Home Support at Wintringham, and Bryan Lipmann AM, the CEO at Wintringham. Wintringham operate a number of programs, including outreach, social housing, in home aged care, residential aged care, and a registered pension level SRS. In addition to operating its own pension level SRS, it has been engaged to provide services to the residents or former residents of other SRSs.
On the basis of this direct experience, and many years’ experience in the sector, these representatives of Wintringham will give evidence about the care and support needs of people who live in an SRS. They will say, Commissioners, it's not possible to properly operate a pension level SRS in a financially viable and responsible manner.
We will then hear from Jacob, a 60-year-old man. He resided in the same SRS for five years. Jacob will tell you about his experiences of living in that SRS. He was still living there when Wintringham took over the day-to-day running of the facility. Wintringham worked with Jacob and his support team to find a new secure SIL accommodation, where he resides now. Jacob misses the community of his former SRS and would be happy to move back there with a new proprietor providing support as Wintringham did this year.
‘Bel’ will give evidence this afternoon. She has an intellectual and psychosocial disability and has lived in several SRSs over the past six years. ‘Bel’ is also an NDIS participant, and we have already shown you the photos of her bedroom last month. Tomorrow morning, the Royal Commission will hear from Georgia. Georgia's mother Kay was a resident of an SRS at the time of her death. Georgia made a complaint to the Victorian Government about her care the care her mother received at the SRS and the circumstances surrounding her death. After making a complaint, Georgia felt like she could not get information about what would happen next.
Dr Colleen Pearce AM, the Public Advocate in Victoria will give evidence this afternoon. Dr Pearce will address key themes relating to the regulation and oversight of SRSs. And on Friday, we turn to the government witnesses. Over the course of three sessions the Royal Commission will hear from Tracy Mackey, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commissioner; and Samantha Taylor PSM, Strategic Advisor to the NDIS Commission as a panel.
Anthony Kolmus, the Director of Human Services Regulator unit in the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing will give evidence about the regulatory framework that applies to SRSs and what approach has been adopted by the state in that space. Sherri Bruinhout, the Executive Director of Homelessness, Housing Support Homes in Victoria, will give evidence about the way in which state government funds SRSs and raises questions about the overall viability of the model.
Throughout the government witnesses, we will examine the regulatory quality and safeguarding arrangements that apply to SRSs and NDIS providers, identifying gaps in the arrangements and asking where the responsibility lies for filling that gap.
Commissioners, just before we play the evidence of Denise as a pre-record, I'm told there is an appearance to be announced for one of the parties with leave to appear.
CHAIR: Yes, if there is any additional appearance, now is the time to announce that appearance.
MR MWILAMBWE: On the record, Commissioner, Mwilambwe, initial T, solicitor for GTC Lawyers, appearing on behalf of Grace Disability Services.
CHAIR: Yes, thank you very much. Yes.
MS BENNETT: Thank you, Commissioners. We will now ask that the evidence of the Denise be played.
MS DOWSETT: Just so people know when the judges listen so they know who it is, I'm Cathy, and I'm here with Denise today and she wants to share her story about where she used to live. That's right, isn't it, Denise?
DENISE: Yes, yes.
MS DOWSETT: What you are going to tell us now, this is the truth, isn't it?
MS DOWSETT: Okay. Now, I called them the judges, that's the Commissioners. That's who you mean, isn't it?
MS DOWSETT: So, do you want to tell the judges about what it was like to live in Hambleton House, maybe?
DENISE: It was real cold.
MS DOWSETT: Real cold?
MS BENNETT: Yes. And the bed and the door hit the bed. It was so close to the door and it hit the bed. It was so close to the door, wasn't it? Yes. It was so close to the door, it hit it, yes.
MS DOWSETT: And so why was it cold? Do you remember like, was there a heater?
DENISE: There wasn't no, only a heater, only one heater. That's all.
MS DOWSETT: Yes.
DENISE: Only one.
MS DOWSETT: And what about the back door?
DENISE: The back door was open all night.
MS DOWSETT: All night?
MS DOWSETT: And why was it open?
DENISE: Yes, because someone had broken the lock.
MS DOWSETT: And it stayed broken for a long time?
DENISE: Yes, you can't open you can't shut it. It's open all night. God, I was terrified in bed. I thought that someone was going to come in and kill me in bed, terrified.
MS DOWSETT: Terrified.
DENISE: Yes I was frightened.
MS DOWSETT: And you had a room a bedroom for yourself?
DENISE: Yes, I had a bedroom for myself, yes.
MS DOWSETT: But you had to share the bathroom?
MS DOWSETT: And what was the bathroom like?
DENISE: It was just cold.
MS DOWSETT: Cold?
DENISE: Cold as ice. I was sick there the whole time. I been sick all the time, I been sick there.
MS DOWSETT: And do you want to tell the Royal Commission, the judges, about your bedroom? So you said it was little.
DENISE: Yes, I could open the door and shut the door and then when I opened it again, it's wedged next to a bed.
MS DOWSETT: Yep.
DENISE: Right next to a bed.
MS DOWSETT: What did you have in your room? So you had your bed and
DENISE: And a wardrobe to put our to put our clothes in and to put our bits and pieces in there. And that's all we had.
MS DOWSETT: And what about did you have a cot for your dolls?
DENISE: Yes, I had a cot for my dolls.
MS DOWSETT: You had a cot for your dolls. And tell the Royal Commission tell the judges about your dolls, like, your babies.
DENISE: Oh, my babies I dress them myself. I dress them and I bath them myself.
MS DOWSETT: Yes.
DENISE: And I feed them and make sure, and he goes to sleep, one little doll, here, brand new we bought, Baby Born, and you see you put em down, you see, he goes fast asleep. You close their eyes.
MS DOWSETT: And what happened to your babies when you lived at Hambleton House?
DENISE: Oh, she threw them all out. The woman, yes, she threw them all out because we had we had bedbugs in the in the bed, and it was biting me all over.
MS DOWSETT: Right.
MS DOWSETT: And did she tell you she was going to throw them out?
DENISE: No, she didn't say anything until I come home, and she said it, because the man was there.
MS DOWSETT: Yes.
DENISE: A man was there and he was cleaning our floor, cleaning up, cleaning something out. Anyway, I only had one cleaner there, all the time I was living there, only one.
MS DOWSETT: So when COVID happened, you had to move out of Hambleton House. Do you want to tell the judges where you went to?
MS DOWSETT: Where did you go when the flu was on and you left Hambleton House?
DENISE: Yes, I went to I went to a I went to a hospital first.
MS DOWSETT: Hospital?
DENISE: Yes and then afterwards I went to a I went to this place down in St Kilda.
MS DOWSETT: Yes.
DENISE: A new place. This nice new place.
MS DOWSETT: So you'd you had come out of Hambleton House with those people, and you went to stay in the hospital?
MS DOWSETT: And then you went to stay in St Kilda. And did you see anyone from Hambleton House at St Kilda?
DENISE: No, no. I only seen a couple of people from Hambleton House in the same in the same building and the same place where I was before in in St Kilda before.
MS DOWSETT: She wanted you to go back there, but you didn't go back?
DENISE: No. No. I wouldn't go back there, Christ, no, thank you. No. Not after what he did to me. He take my bloody dolls away. That would be my with me. That would be mine. I don't like that.
MS DOWSETT: No.
DENISE: I don't like that, putting I don't like that taking me dolls away from me because they are the only ones I've got.
MS DOWSETT: That's your family.
DENISE: I don't want to take any dolls away from me again.
MS DOWSETT: So if there was one thing that you could say to the judges about what it was like living in Hambleton House, what would you want them to know?
DENISE: I'm going to tell but and they were going to threw me out, that woman.
MS DOWSETT: Why were they going to throw you out?
DENISE: Because people because someone was following me, up there.
MS DOWSETT: Someone was following you?
DENISE: Yes, a man.
MS DOWSETT: And he was where did you know that man from?
DENISE: He come from Hambleton House still the same.
MS DOWSETT: And he was following you outside Hambleton House?
DENISE: Yes, he was following me all up there.
MS DOWSETT: And what did you
DENISE: He was laughing going (laughs) all the time, what do you all I saw was the but it's not, it was him.
MS DOWSETT: And so what did you do? Did you tell someone?
DENISE: Yes, I told the people in the place where I was, I told them.
MS DOWSETT: And that place, that's your friendship group that you go
DENISE: Yes, it was when I was (BLEEP) cooking on us we are not. All the other things goes on in Hambleton House that you didn't recognise, but I do.
MS DOWSETT: Do you want to tell us some of those? What else happened that we didn't want to recognise?
DENISE: No, awful. Awful place I ever went to in my life
MS DOWSETT: Oh that's
DENISE: Real nasty. Nasty people and some of these people, throw things at you.
MS DOWSETT: People who live there would throw things at you?
DENISE: Yes, there was with a man there, and he threw something at me and the lady said, "Hey, what do you think you are doing?" He said, "I don't like her." I said, "Well, you don't have to throw things at me just because you don't like me, do you, hey." He shut up in the book and he said, "You laughing at me, I don't like that." I don't talk to many people, even if even in our place now, I don't talk to many people if they don't like me. Some of them like me, others don't.
MS DOWSETT: But you're happy now where you are.
DENISE: Yes, I'm happy now. Yes, once I was there now, with friends around me and all, so I'm happy.
MS DOWSETT: That's very lovely.
MS DOWSETT: Well, thank you so much for coming to see us today and for sharing your story firstly with me but also on this recording for the judges. So, I'm really thankful. It's very important people tell their stories.
MS DOWSETT: Is there anything you would like to say in signing off? Anything else you would like to share?
DENISE: No, no, no. No, that's all.
CHAIR: Yes, Ms Dowsett.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. The next witness witnesses will be the panel from Wintringham, so I would like to invite Bryan Lipmann and Kate Rice to come and take a seat.
CHAIR: Yes, thank you. Please do sit down. Yes. Ms Rice and Mr Lipmann, thank you for coming to the Royal Commission. Thank you, too, for the detailed statement that you have provided, which we have read. I will explain where everybody is, not that there are so many people. But Commissioner Galbally, whom you can see on screen, is participating in the hearing from Melbourne. Commissioner Ryan is on my left. I'm the chair of the Royal Commission. I understand that each of you wishes to take the affirmation. I would therefore ask you to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located to my right, and he will administer the affirmation to you.
<BRYAN LIPMANN, AFFIRMED
<KATE RICE, AFFIRMED
<EXAMINATION BY MS DOWSETT
CHAIR: Thank you very much. I will now ask Ms Dowsett to ask you some questions.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Ms Rice, you prepared, together with Jane Barnes, a witness statement for the purpose of this Royal Commission. That witness statement is dated 15 August 2022, and for the Commissioner's information, it's in Bundle B1 behind tab 16. Ms Rice, have you had an opportunity to review that statement in preparation for giving evidence today?
MS RICE: I have.
MS DOWSETT: Are there any corrections that you wish to make?
MS RICE: No.
MS DOWSETT: Are the contents of the statement true and correct?
MS RICE: They are.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you. And, Mr Lipmann, I understand you've had an opportunity to review that statement in preparation for joining Ms Rice on the panel?
MR LIPMANN: I did.
MS DOWSETT: And in her opening, Ms Bennett indicated that, Mr Lipmann, you are the CEO of Wintringham. How long you have been in that role?
MR LIPMANN: I started the company in 1989 and I've been there ever since.
MS DOWSETT: And, Ms Rice, I understand you have recently had a promotion. What's your current role?
MS RICE: I'm currently General Manager of Home Supports at Wintringham.
MS DOWSETT: And can you briefly explain to the Royal Commission what you do in that role?
MS RICE: So the role involves the overall management of all Wintringham's in home support, so at the moment that includes oversight of 850 federally funded aged-care packages.
MS DOWSETT: And prior to taking up that role, you had a role in relation to the provision of care at the SRS level?
MS RICE: That's right. So, prior to the current role, I was approached to be a project manager in Wintringham's quality team and that involved now to date three SRS projects. So, I oversaw the provision of care and supports to the three SRSs that were facing closure.
MS DOWSETT: Right. So, you have the on the ground information about SRSs, if I can put it that way?
MS RICE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: And, Mr Lipmann, you are the head of the organisation. You have that oversight? I would like to begin by asking some questions about the care and support needs of the cohort of people who are resident in SRSs. So, if we could begin first with Angus Martin House, that's Wintringham's pension level SRS. You have addressed this in beginning at paragraph 27 of your statement. But if I could ask you perhaps, Ms Rice, if you could, to outline briefly or Mr Lipmann, if it's a question better addressed to you, but what is Angus Martin House and who do you provide care and support to?
MR LIPMANN: I wonder for I can take it a step back and talk about I know you want to talk later on about the viability of SRSs.
CHAIR: I think it might be better if we just address the question. I'm sure Ms Dowsett will come in due course to the topic you are anxious to address. Let's concentrate on the question and then we will take the others as they come.
MR LIPMANN: Fine. The question again, then?
MS DOWSETT: The resident profile of the people who live beginning at Angus Martin House. So, what are their care and support needs?
MS RICE: So, the Angus Martin House is located in a very, very disadvantaged area of Melbourne called Frankston with a high degree of homelessness and a place we didn't have a lot of presence in before. So, the demographic of the clients that are being referred are generally local people there. We have a focus and a clientele of age 50 and above, so they are ageing people with disabilities that move into Angus Martin. There is more men than women at the SRS. But, predominantly, it's psychosocial disability, but really dual disabilities.
So, we see physical people with physical disabilities. A lot of people a lot of the residents have diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar that's very common but also with that comes intellectual disability. So, it's an interesting profile that often people are not presenting necessarily with one predominant disability. And because of our speciality working with people with alcohol dependency and drug dependency and people of age, we get a lot of people who have got diagnosed alcohol related brain injuries and brain injury coming to live there.
MS DOWSETT: How do residents make their way to Angus Martin House? What's the referral process?
MS RICE: So, interestingly, as was referenced before, there was a lot of SRSs in that particular area, which is down the peninsula, and quite a few of those have closed. So, Wintringham, we received quite a lot of referrals and have been as other pension level SRSs have closed. People will reach out to us to take their residents on. Certainly, the large public hospital down there refers people. Mental health so area mental health services, NDIS providers.
So, it could be a range of homelessness agencies and services that that know about Angus Martin House. But because we do older people it tends to be a place of choice that people reach out to us. And, as Bryan was just saying, Corrections Victoria. So, people older people exiting prisons with disabilities is a place that they can refer older people
MS DOWSETT: And you have set out in paragraph 34 of your statement the staffing profile at Angus Martin House. So, this is the Wintringham staff. And I think it would be fair to say in summary that that is in excess of the regulatory minimum. Would you agree that proposition?
MS RICE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: Can you explain to the Royal Commission why Wintringham has taken the decision to staff the way it has at Angus Martin?
MS RICE: So, from from my opinion, the when I've just described the type of residents that live there and there is some ageing related needs in addition to the disabilities that present, in Wintringham's opinion, the minimum staffing levels that were referenced one as to 30, we would not be able to ethically or professionally run an SRS and not be able to and not provide the staffing that that group of people provide. We are used to running aged-care facilities, so we know the level of care and support that people require. So, although it's nowhere near the level of support an aged-care facility can offer, we make sure as an organisation that we have professionally trained nurses, we have recreation, we have a social worker who provides case management. We do over and above the minimum requirements. But it's very difficult to fund that.
MR LIPMANN: If I can only just add to that is that some of those people aren't necessarily based entirely at the Angus Martin but they come from within the company. So, for example, our range of clinical care nurses, for example, are not based at Angus Martin but they go right through the company so, therefore, as a product of the size of our organisation, we can draw on resources that would not be possible if it was a stand alone SRS for profit or not for profit.
MS DOWSETT: And Angus Martin sorry, Wintringham is a not for profit organisation?
MR LIPMANN: Yes, correct.
MS DOWSETT: And this is the point I think you wanted to get to before. What can you tell us about the financial viability of the model that you are using firstly at Angus Martin? Is it financially viable?
MR LIPMANN: No, it's not financially viable, and there is no way that I can understand how it ever could be. I think the issue really is that for profit SRSs have to pay a mortgage or a rental on their property. They need to pay tax, and they presumably need to make a profit, otherwise why would they do the service. And not for profit organisation that can be granted a building, such as we were, is excluded from all of those three things. So it is possible, therefore, to think that it may be possible to be viable.
In spite of all of the cross subsidisations we do within the company and in spite of a very generous grant from a philanthropic organisation for an outreach worker, we are still not viable. And it's just it's a we just see it as a service that Wintringham should do. Our board has accepted that. But it is not viable. And I don't believe it is possible to be viable and provide any any form of quality services.
CHAIR: I notice in paragraph 31 of the statement that you provide certain demographic information. Of the 41 residents, how many are participants in the NDIS?
MS RICE: How many? So, we have got out of the current load, we have 16 people who are NDIS recipients. There are I think two at the moment who are not on either an aged-care package or an NDIS, and the remainder are actually recipients of Commonwealth funded aged-care packages.
CHAIR: Aged-care packages.
MS RICE: Yes, as well. That's right. And that's very unusual that we have so many people, because we have assisted them access Commonwealth aged-care packages because you can live at an SRS until you know, well, forever essentially, so there's not a maximum age cut off. So, we have people obviously over 50. So, if you are then over 65 so we have residents over the age of 65. So, we would support them to go through My Aged Care to access an aged-care package because you are ineligible for an aged-care package or to apply for one once you turn 65.
CHAIR: Paragraph 31 indicates 18 are on an aged-care pension, 23 are on the Disability Support Pension.
MS RICE: Yes.
CHAIR: If someone is on the Disability Support Pension, having a look at paragraph 32, residents are charged a basic daily fee for the day to day services they receive. That's 85 per cent of a resident's base pension, plus 100 per cent of the rental assistance. In a typical case, what does that leave the resident who is on a Disability Support Pension?
MS RICE: At the moment, it's just under $200 a fortnight.
CHAIR: Over and above the amounts that are referred to at that paragraph 32.
MS RICE: Yes, and our pricing is similar to what we would charge in our residential aged-care facilities, but they don't obviously, in a residential aged-care facility, you don't get rent assistance.
MS RICE: So it's not it's about $100 a week, people end up with some
CHAIR: And as far as those who are on the participants in the NDIS, you have said 16 of them 16 of the residents are in that category, what is the revenue that comes in to your organisation through those participants?
MS RICE: So they are supported by a range of providers. But the rent the rent that's charged to an NDIS participant or an aged-care participant package, the rent is the same. So, we have a consistent rental
CHAIR: Sorry, I should have asked the question in a different way.
MS RICE: Okay.
CHAIR: Do any of the 16 NDIS participants, do their packages come to you in any way for the services you provide to them?
MS RICE: Yes, so we provide support coordination to people that live at Angus Martin. If they have chosen to use Wintringham.
CHAIR: So if they choose your organisation as the support coordinator
MS RICE: Yes.
CHAIR: you act in that capacity.
MS RICE: Yes.
CHAIR: Do all 16 choose you?
MS RICE: No.
CHAIR: So there are different support coordinators.
MS RICE: Lots of different support coordinators. Yes. So, people can pick whoever they choose and they can also choose their core providers.
MS RICE: Yes.
CHAIR: Do you provide any other services that might be paid for out of the NDIS package for the 16?
MS RICE: Yes. So, if you if you had a so say, for example, if we have a client at Angus Martin and they choose to have Wintringham services, they can choose to have core supports, but usually it's around the category called community Access. So, the staff don't work at the site, they work at different Wintringham offices. So, a recreation service, for example, can be delivered into the person living in Angus Martin to help them access the local community.
CHAIR: Right. Thank you. Mr Lipmann, I think you said that there is cross subsidisation involved for this particular facility. What form does that cross subsidisation take?
MR LIPMANN: As I mentioned before, it's it's using services that exist within the company to assist Angus Martin. That can be anywhere from finance, it can be from recreation, it can be from clinical care team, it can be from senior management to come and give support. It can come from a range of services which a stand alone SRS wouldn't have. That's what I meant by that statement.
CHAIR: So you are referring to cross subsidisation in the sense that there are people within your organisation who wouldn't necessarily be allocated to this facility but they do perform some services at this facility.
MR LIPMANN: Correct.
CHAIR: It's not a financial cross subsidy. Not in a direct financial sense.
MR LIPMANN: Well, I suppose the closest one would be food.
MS RICE: Yes.
MR LIPMANN: We would charge for food. But it's it's it is probably sounding a little bit wobbly but what we are trying to do is keep the building operating and in any way we can, and if we have got the resources within the company, we will do so.
CHAIR: Is there a document that sets out the stand alone financial position of Angus Martin? Or is it absorbed within the general
MR LIPMANN: Yes, there is. We could easily provide that.
CHAIR: Alright. We might get that in due course yes. Thank you.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Please do continue.
MS DOWSETT: Mr Lipmann, you mentioned that you might charge for food as one of the cross subsidisation elements. Does that mean that Wintringham buys in the food and onsells it into Angus Martin? Is that what you meant by that?
MR LIPMANN: Yes, I suppose that's we make the food, deliver the food and provide it, yes.
MS DOWSETT: And within
MS RICE: That's included within their rent.
MR LIPMANN: Yes, it is included in their rent.
MS DOWSETT: Within the funding arrangements for Angus Martin House, is there a budget allocation for food per resident per day? So out of their rent, how much of that is allocated towards food?
MR LIPMANN: Well, we would we would spend about $24 a day on
MS RICE: Each person.
MR LIPMANN: each person. I might just says, as Kate informs me, that the SRS we took over was running at $2 a day.
CHAIR: For food?
MS RICE: Yes.
CHAIR: Per person?
MS RICE: Yes.
MR LIPMANN: The three places that we took over were running, from what we can gather, running about $2 a day, we spent about $24 a day.
MS RICE: Because they used a lot of donations.
MR LIPMANN: Can I say, that is just an indication throughout all of the services that we are providing, they are way in excess of what would normally exist, and that's why it's unviable, but yet we think it's at a minimum. We think we should be actually doing even more.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Just out of interest, the Counsel Assisting mentioned at some stage or other there was funding from the Victorian Government to assist in viability, I think it is called SAVVI funding.
MR LIPMANN: SAVVI funding, yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Do you receive that?
MR LIPMANN: Yes, but it's not much. It's 100 grand, yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: $100,000 for 40 people, was it?
MR LIPMANN: Yes, it's a yes
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Do you know how that's how is that allocated? Because apparently the whole program is worth $13.5 million.
MR LIPMANN: Yes, it's not easy to get.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Is it allocated on a per capita basis in
MR LIPMANN: I think no, I think it's a flat-fee but I think you will have the Department people tomorrow who may be able to explain that. I think it is a flat fee.
MS RICE: And I can I mean, I can just briefly answer your question in terms of the contact I had with the SAVVI funding and the PL I think it is called PLP funding at the two SRSs that we will get to, but what happened is what happens is that the Department allocates funding to those areas to a local provider. So, this is different to Angus Martin. So, they might find a community health centre, and the funding goes to them. And then they work with the proprietor on what would you like to spend that money on? So it could be fruit each week or new beds or so they work individually with that particular proprietor about how the money is spent.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Okay. So, it is not given to you as a cash grant or something.
MS RICE: No, but I think our specific arrangement with Angus Martin is it comes to Wintringham, because we came into the field late late in the piece.
MR LIPMANN: Yes, and I think the other point and no doubt Counsel is going to mention this, but, as far as we know, we are the only not for profit provider. So, therefore, there is some slightly different arrangements.
CHAIR: We will allow Counsel to continue by asking you some questions.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. So, you have mentioned a couple of times about the three SRSs. So, I just want to take a little bit of time to talk about those. The first one was Hambleton House. And so this is or was an SRS in Melbourne that Wintringham came in to or was asked to come in to provide services to the former residents but you never Wintringham didn't provide any services in the Hambleton House building. Is that correct?
MS RICE: If I can refer to the person in the video that we just watched, she actually was a very recent recipient of a Wintringham aged-care package, actually. So, just before the COVID outbreak happened, that particular lady had actually come on to an aged-care package, which was terrific. I think her support people had tried for a long time. So, she was a Wintringham client. So, we had just started providing care and support services as best as we could into Hambleton House to support her. It's just generally the support was provided in the front yard and not into the building, as it was difficult to get in.
MS DOWSETT: And are you able to say what that difficulty was?
MS RICE: Yes. So, the difficulty was often around proprietors or staff who were present at the time discouraging visits inside the house and into Denise's bedroom. So, usually, the suggestion was when our my colleagues went to actually visit Denise, it was suggested it would be better to meet with her in the garden, and that was a very common story that that I heard directly from lots of providers. "It's best to meet in the garden". And when our staff actually did provide get into provide services directly to that particular lady, it appeared often that there was a very quick tidy up that happened, that doors and windows were open when the staff came to visit so that the smell would obviously not be so pungent. But it is exactly our staff have described exactly as the lady has described the state of the room. It was like it was a room under a under a staircase, almost the size a bit bigger than a cupboard area. So, the stories definitely match her experience.
MS DOWSETT: But for the broader Hambleton House population more generally, it was after the closure that Wintringham was engaged to provide services at at another location that was sourced by the Department. You came in and provided SRS style services at that location?
MS RICE: Yes, correct.
MS DOWSETT: And in the course of doing providing that service, you were given some photographs by the Department from Hambleton House?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And can you just tell the Royal Commissioners what the purpose, as you understood it, of those photographs being provided to you was?
MS RICE: So, all the residents came to us at the backpackers in St Kilda without any possessions. So, the Department approached me directly and said, "I've got a series of photographs could you go and show we don't know whose room is who. Could you go and show the photographs to your residents so that they can select what items they would like brought to them at the backpackers, including what items would be like laundered."
MR LIPMANN: Can I say briefly interrupt, when we say backpackers, it was actually empty. It was a backpackers. It became empty because of COVID, and so the Department secured the building. So, it's not as though we were in there with backpackers.
MS RICE: No.
MR LIPMANN: Sorry, I just wanted to make sure that's clear.
MS RICE: Sorry, it sounds as a bit strange, but yes.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Mr Lipmann. If I could just ask the operator to bring up the photograph ending 0101. So, Commissioners, these photographs that I'm about to show are a selection from behind tab 20. Given that the time constraints of this morning, I'm not going to show all of them but if we could have this up. So, Ms Rice, this is a photograph from inside Hambleton House, as you understand it?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And it shows what appears to be a shared bedroom, two beds?
MS RICE: Yes, correct.
MS DOWSETT: And you were given this and all of the photographs we are going to look at for the purposes of a resident identifying their property, anything that they would like to have brought to them?
MS RICE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: If we could turn turn, please, to the photograph ending in 104. So, this is a photograph of a mattress, and I think you were telling me that the resident whose mattress this was wanted it.
MS RICE: Yes, because he had paid $4000 for it. It was a Bambillo brand mattress. So I had to have this very challenging discussion that it wasn't that we weren't able to have it cleaned and then properly returned again. So, he was quite distressed because he told me that it was that it was blood stained and it was actually full of bedbugs.
MS DOWSETT: If we could turn to the photograph ending 106. So, this is another shared bedroom of a resident?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And we see in this photograph and in the earlier shared one no apparent provision for privacy in this room?
MS RICE: No.
MS DOWSETT: Turning, then, to the photograph ending in 107. This is a resident's room, and it appears to show in the bottom right hand corner a mattress on the floor. Is that
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And then if we could have next the photos ending 108 and 109. Now, I have asked for these to be displayed side by side, but they are unfortunately around the wrong way. So, in the image on the left of the screen wow. Got skills now. Flicked it over thank you. So, what we can see now is that the room is the length of a single bed; is that correct?
MS RICE: Correct.
MS DOWSETT: And this is a resident's room. There is no other mattress in this room, though. This is the whole of the room we can see here?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MR LIPMANN: Can I just add, Counsel, that in spite of all the advances in technology, photographs don't smell.
MR LIPMANN: You have no idea what these places smelled like.
MS DOWSETT: We can take those images down now. Thank you, operator. So, you have set out in detail in your statement the services that were provided to the former residents of Hambleton House, and one of the things that you did was to find secure accommodation for all of those former residents. And you have outlined where where you were able to find accommodation for them. But can you talk about the challenge of finding somewhere for these people to go? How did you find some accommodation?
MS RICE: It was extremely difficult for our team because we had a 12 week timeframe. So, you can imagine in 12 weeks, it took several weeks to even get to know people and know what their support needs were. And then it was several weeks before the residents were even told that Hambleton was actually going to be closed. So, initially, the group of residents we had apart from two people so we had 20 people saying, "I actually want to go back" we have seen what it was like. "I want to go back. That's home. I want to go back."
So, working with the group who were very institutionalised to say, "Actually you can't go back, so we need to find somewhere else". People didn't even want to engage in discussions with us about where to. So, it began a very difficult process to locate suitable accommodation, long term for people who mostly lacked capacity and were most and generally were actually still subject to an ongoing relationship with the proprietors.
So, in the end, we worked with the Office of the Public Advocate and the mental health service predominantly to actually assess what sort of accommodation people needed and a significant number and they all had disabilities were actually eligible and appropriate for residential aged care. And I think that was probably one of the disturbing things. I mean, that wasn't then hard to find appropriate vacancies into specialist homeless aged-care providers. But to get people through the assessments of My Aged Care, and particularly for those people who were under 65, is really very, very difficult.
So, the people that lived in these rooms couldn't live independently, in our assessment. They couldn't go into social housing properties on their own with some supports, and certainly when we reached out to the NDIS, in 12 weeks it was not possible for the NDIS really, to be fair to come to us to say, "We will help and we will find some accommodation." And they didn't have money in their packages to even pay for things like NDIS funded respite. So, we worked really hard to get people assessed for aged-care placements, which includes Denise. So, really successful.
And then we looked to a very, very limited arrangement in Melbourne of some places that are more congregate living style that provide 24 hour support, which there is almost there's nothing much available. And then a couple of people were convinced, I would have to say, to move to other SRSs that were connected to the previous proprietors. And try as we might to convince them otherwise, they moved across to other SRSs. And then on to another pathway. But so we yes we essentially were able to find accommodation for everybody.
Those we struggled with so, for example, if a couple of people might have had really series disabilities like schizophrenia, current psychosis, and really there was not somewhere that could take them because they were actively drug using, I looked myself to the homeless service system to say can you help us out, do you have any options, even a short term option. And the homeless service system really that exists in Melbourne were not really equipped to deal with people who have high support needs.
So, I had to approach crisis accommodation services and who are not used to dealing with anyone on NDIS. And so the pushback I got was, well they are on NDIS, so therefore they are not really a high priority. You need to go back to the NDIS and try to get the NDIS to help. So, we went sort of around and round. And in 12 weeks it was it was very challenging. And we got there in the end, but we got several people guardianships through VCAT, which is unfortunate we had to get to that, but I really had to have the support of the Office of the Public Advocate to really help me to push through some of these barriers to getting accommodation for people. But I couldn't get so nobody actually, one lady, all none of the other NDIS recipients went into NDIS funded accommodation.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you.
MS RICE: It just wasn't there.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Ms Rice. So, that's the Hambleton House scenario. And there were two other two other SRSs that are related to one another, and I will ask you not to say the names of the other SRSs, but this was the second project or the second and third project where Wintringham actually went into those SRSs and provided supports and services to their residents. That's correct?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And you say in your statement you talk about the initial difficulty that you faced was identifying who were the residents of this SRS. And there was a an inconsistency in the documentation between who was on the list and who was in the buildings. Is that correct?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And so it took you some time to identify your residents?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And if I you implemented the sorry, I will begin again. The services that Wintringham provided in these SRSs, you modelled those off what you do at Angus Martin House?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And, ultimately, the decision was taken that the residents of those SRSs would be the SRSs would be closed and those residents would move?
MR LIPMANN: But that wasn't our decision. That was
MS DOWSETT: No, a decision was taken and you then without going, again, into the detail you have just provided for Hambleton House, you were able to work through that process and find secure accommodation for all of those residents.
MS RICE: Yes.
MR LIPMANN: Our job was primarily to look after the service and the residents until the the government the assessors decided what to to do with the service.
MS DOWSETT: And while you were providing those services, Ms Rice, I understand you took some photos inside each of these SRSs?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And I would like to bring some of those up now. Operator, if we could have the photo ending in 0095. So, this is we see a bed and a curtain. As I understand it, this is a shared room and so that the curtain is the privacy for the resident of this room.
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: At the time that Wintringham was providing services in this SRS, how many residents were in this room?
MS RICE: Two.
MS DOWSETT: Operator, if we could now have the photograph that ends in 92. Ms Rice, can you explain to us what this is?
MS RICE: So it's a it's a padlock with a well, it looks like a bike chain, that I came across personally myself in the first week of providing supports. I was there late one night working, and at about 9 o'clock at night a staff member in front of me, chained the door. So, I was inside the building. So, I questioned what was happening, and the answer that I was given was that this was the this was the arrangement that previous management had set up, and this was the way it was always done.
MS DOWSETT: Can I just pause you there. So, this photograph was taken from inside the building?
MS RICE: The front door. That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: These are the front doors. The chain and the padlock hold the doors shut from the inside.
MS RICE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: Right. And what did you do other than you took the photograph? What steps did you take?
MS RICE: So I immediately contacted the acting the acting proprietor, who was Ernst & Young, who immediately contacted the head of Human Services Regulator, called him directly, and it was removed immediately and put out of I mean, no one was able to do it again. Interestingly, though, as this was there were residents around me. When I was quite horrified about it and I asked them, "Do you know how to get out?" And a couple of them said, "Oh, no, we have seen what the code is so we could get out." And then other people said to me, "Oh, I would have no idea." And they said, "Oh, well, we would probably try to get out the back door" because I was immediately worried about fire and, of course, terrible terrible. But the staff member who actually was attaching the lock, he genuinely could not see that there was a concern. He had been working there for a long time. He genuinely couldn't see there was a concern, but he said he was operating under management direction.
CHAIR: What would have happened if there had been a fire?
MS RICE: I don't know. People couldn't have got out.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, operator. We can take that one down. So, those two photographs are from one SRS. I want to now move to the second of the two SRSs, operator, if you could put up the photograph ending in 0062.
CHAIR: By the way, when you say Ernst & Young were the acting proprietor, I take it they were the administrators?
MS RICE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: So this is a photograph it appears to be of a bathroom and the I'm not sure if it's a power point or just a light switch is hanging off the wall.
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: Was this bathroom in use?
MS RICE: Yes, it was.
MS DOWSETT: Operator, if we could turn to the next photograph, which is ending in 63. Now, Mr Lipmann, I understand that this photograph is taken from a video is lifted from a video that you shot. Is that correct?
MR LIPMANN: Yes. We were already in the building for about a week or 10 days when I visited, and the manager who reported to Kate was telling me what the building was like, and I said, it's a pity I wasn't here when you first arrived and she said, "Oh, we have got a room. We haven't opened it. I will show you." And I took this video and you have obviously taken a clip out of it. Again, just have to remind you as you obviously were acknowledging to me before, the smell is is pretty powerful.
MS DOWSETT: So when the manager said that this room hadn't been opened, there was no resident living in here at the time?
MR LIPMANN: Not at the time. This is one of the strange things maybe Kate can talk more of that, because obviously Kate knows a lot more about this actual operation than I do, but the numbers of people that we expected to see at the site weren't there. Which raises a whole range of issues which we are not competent to discuss, but where are they? Where were they?
MS DOWSETT: If we could turn, please, to the photograph ending in 0069. Ms Rice, you can explain what this is a photograph of?
MS RICE: So, I took this photo, and this is a very small sample of some of the mail that we gathered and found in the office of the SRS. So, we had boxes of mail
MS DOWSETT: Who is the mail addressed to?
MS RICE: So the mail was lots of names of people I would have to assume were ex residents and there was also mail for current residents that was just sitting there. Some was opened and some was sealed.
MR LIPMANN: And some of these residents weren't there.
MS DOWSETT: Just moving on quickly. So, if we could have a quick look at the photo ending in 73. Now, this shows a bed and a mattress on the floor. But, Ms Rice, I understand this a staff bedroom.
MS RICE: This is the sleepover room which was sort of in an adjacent sort of pop up demountable yes, and bed time was we were told or I was told directly it was about 9 o'clock. So, the person would go and hop in well, hop into bed, I assume, at 9 o'clock. But it was quite you had to go sort of down a hallway, a ramp, to actually get into into the building.
MR LIPMANN: It was like a sleepout.
MS RICE: A sleepout.
MS DOWSETT: The photograph ending in 79. Ms Rice, can you tell us what this is?
MS RICE: So, this was a resident shower. So, there was a and another tap that was adjacent to the side to get some running water out of, but it struck me as really disturbing to see a whistle, because I could have only assumed that was for someone to get help if they needed to reach out to a staff member.
MS DOWSETT: And the final photograph I would like to you look at, please, is the one ending in 0085. And so this is a shared room, and we see that there are some wardrobes in the middle.
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And it's your understanding that that's to provide privacy for the residents who live in this room?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: When you were providing services at this facility, were there residents living in this room?
MS RICE: No so like the other photo, this was a room that the door was locked, that we unlocked, and I went in and it was almost like where are the people? Because it was like someone should have been living in there. All their belongings were in there. Everything. And it was just it was like it had been abandoned.
CHAIR: Where had they gone?
MS RICE: Well, that's that's the question. So, we have suspicions where people went, but the lists the lists, as you referred to, didn't match on the day we arrived of who we thought was living there, who the NDIS thought was living there and who actually was living there.
MR LIPMANN: I think the other thing to say is that in at least one of the bedrooms there was a frail elderly woman sharing a room with a 35 year old drug user.
MS RICE: That was at Hambleton House, yes.
MR LIPMANN: Hambleton House, that's right, but still
MS RICE: Definitely. Sharing was sharing was really common because you got a rent discount.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Did you say you think the NDIS would have believed someone was living in this room?
MS RICE: So when we tried to match all the records of who was actually a current resident and who was currently paying, none of the lists initially matched up.
MS RICE: So is the suggestion the NDIS would have been paying for those people even though they were not resident?
MS RICE: No, but their administrators might have been, financial administrators.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Yes, but the prior to that
MS RICE: But through their plans, the address listed for some people would have still listed the SRS. But so no one told the NDIS, I assume, that people had moved.
CHAIR: Were you able to ascertain in the case, for example, of that room where two people would have been in shared accommodation what they would have been paying to the provider before you came in? Or is there no way for you to know?
MS RICE: Yes. So, interestingly, I got provided with information of the rents that the current group were charging, and they were really variable for no reason. So, some people were on what I would consider a lower rent of about 750, 760 a fortnight and that would go up to well over 900. But was no rhyme or reason that I could see of why people were charged different amounts when everyone's income was the same essentially, a Disability Support Pension, predominantly, in this case, except that I came across, I suppose, evidence that some residents were written to saying, "Your rent will go up by $20, $30 a fortnight because your care needs are increasing."
CHAIR: Did that mean that if you take the lower of those amounts, I think you said seven hundred
MS RICE: 760 a fortnight.
CHAIR: 760, 380 a week, that the two people sharing that room would be paying
MS RICE: Both that.
CHAIR: between them $760?
MS RICE: No, each of them. So, that's the discount. That would be the cheaper discounted rate for each person.
CHAIR: Sorry, I meant per week. So, taking it per fortnight, $1520 a fortnight.
MS RICE: Yes.
CHAIR: For rental.
MS RICE: Yes.
CHAIR: For that accommodation.
MS RICE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: Now, the Chair asked you a question about where the missing residents might have gone to, and Ms Rice said you said you had some suspicions. One of the things you have referenced in your statement is the concept of share housing, and we have also heard some evidence and we will hear some evidence later in the hearing about this model called pop up housing. But you are aware of some of the missing residents being located in this share housing?
MS RICE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And what how did you come to be aware of that?
MS RICE: So my first experience was in Hambleton House, and I want to make it clear that usually the pop up housing was was being operated by registered NDIS providers. So, this is not an unregistered space, that I personally had experience with. So, for Hambleton House, I had never heard of this concept before, except one of the residents that I have that I have talked about in the submission who has an intellectual disability and schizophrenia, was housed securely by us in a not for profit supported accom, and one morning I got a call saying, "Oh, my goodness, Kate, help us." This fellow had just disappeared in the night. He was gone.
And so then the story unravelled and, due to COVID, they had signing in processes so it was really good in that sense. So, he had been picked up by disability support workers in a vehicle outside the property, who then drove him to a property in Melbourne's outer west and basically just put him in a house. So, his parents in regional Victoria were not contacted, the NDIS was not contacted, state trustees who manage his funds weren't. So, nobody knew where this poor fellow had gone to. He had just disappeared.
And then information started coming through that, "I want a different support coordinator. I want to change all my NDIS arrangements." So the whole NDIS process started coming to life that anyway, so I initiated a report to the police through missing persons and then I also did an urgent application to VCAT, which is a shame, because the fellow probably didn't really need a guardian but I was really stuck about how to get this fellow away because he then told the NDIS and told everyone, "I am fine at the new place. They are looking after me. You know, I don't want to go back to my old accom. I'm alright here."
And then he was subsequently appointed a guardian but he was still moved a couple of other times to different properties, like bungalow style accommodation run by a registered NDIS provider.
MS DOWSETT: So can I just check, do you mean SRS or NDIS?
MS RICE: No, an NDIS support provider. Whom he didn't know. So, they were sort of strangers to him that had turned up and essentially got him into the car and moved him.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: I'm a bit lost. What do you think happened?
MS RICE: What I think happened is that there was I think there was a connection between probably the proprietors and this other this NDIS accom. I mean, that was information we were provided with, that there was a relationship there. Because otherwise how would they know where to find him? And he told us that he was getting lots of phone calls to his mobile saying, "We want to move you, we want to move you." But then within a couple of days of him moving, that's when and the NDIS were able to tell me about this that they had received a phone call with the client saying, "I don't want to be with my current NDIS provider."
So all of that just happened really within a phone call. And you can imagine his parents were incredibly distressed. So, now he he's got a guardian, but it's been a very long road to actually work with him around getting into really a reputable NDIS funded accommodation service.
MS DOWSETT: Do you happen to know the value of that person's NDIS plan?
MS RICE: No.
MS DOWSETT: Now, we are fast running out of time, but I do just want to ask you a couple of additional questions. SRSs have been described as accommodation of last resort. Would you accept that description?
CHAIR: For whom? Your question is providers of accommodation of last resort for whom? I think that's missing from the question.
MS DOWSETT: For people who need accommodation and can't find it elsewhere, it's the last step before sleeping on the street.
MR LIPMANN: Look, these are hard questions to answer. I think I would characterise SRSs as a market response to a failure in service. If a government doesn't provide a service and there is a demand for it, private enterprise will step in. It's only perfectly natural. And this is what's happened. I don't have a problem, necessarily, with a range of accommodation. Melbourne is a town that's big enough to have a whole range of different types of services, but what what amazes Kate and myself and our colleagues back at work is the is the rigorous accreditation and auditing that we go through in aged care and NDIS. I have a whole fleet of assessors and people preparing ourselves for accreditation. I just don't understand how these
CHAIR: Do you mean for aged care?
MR LIPMANN: Well, also for NDIS, because we are an NDIS provider too - registration.
MS RICE: Registration.
MR LIPMANN: I just don't understand how these services happen. I I I am I am I don't necessarily want to know how they manage to milk the system but it's clearly it is happening.
CHAIR: They are supposed to be regulated, aren't they, under state law?
MR LIPMANN: I know. I I I don't know. I can only say I understand you are going to be speaking to Dr Pearce later on. When Hambleton House was because of COVID, that was the reason we were called in. As I parked the car and walked towards the new base centre, she rang me to say, "I'm so pleased that finally someone like you can get into this building." So she had been raising questions you probably need to talk to her about it, but these are these are continual problems. I know we are running out of time but can I can I I'm aware that this your focus is on homelessness and NDIS
CHAIR: What's your focus about to be?
MR LIPMANN: Homelessness.
CHAIR: Okay. Go ahead.
MR LIPMANN: Well, I was at a meeting recently not recently, quite a while ago where the Prime Minister was at and someone asked him about homelessness, what are you going to do about it and he responded that homelessness is always a problem in society and there is very little you can do. I've got to say that that's a common comment I hear from both sides of the House and from a range of people, and it's totally wrong. I I don't know how to solve some social problems. I don't know how to solve domestic violence, drug abuse, but I can solve homelessness.
Homelessness is not hard to solve. You need appropriate housing, and you need appropriate levels of support in the right places. And in the absence of those things you end up having the abuses that Kate and myself and our teams have had to go into.
CHAIR: Yes. Alright. Well, we won't necessarily take that as evidence of what the Prime Minister said but of what you think he said.
MR LIPMANN: I didn't say which one.
CHAIR: To avoid a possible problem.
MS DOWSETT: One final question from me. In paragraph 82, you refer to the housing the idea of Housing First. Can you please explain to the Royal Commission what Housing First means to Wintringham?
MR LIPMANN: Housing First is an overseas concept which we have been it's accepted we do too, although we did it on our own terms, unlike I had no idea of the term when we started using it. It's essentially providing appropriate housing before you can provide any forms of support. But it has to be appropriate housing in the right in the right places and the right affordability.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Those are my questions for these witnesses. I hand them to you.
CHAIR: Yes, thank you very much. If you don't mind I will just ask my colleagues if they have any questions to put to you. I will start with Commissioner Ryan.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: I have asked my questions, Mr Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you. Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions?
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Just a couple of questions. Thank you very much, very informative. So, with your own SRSs and the accreditation process as thin as it is, can you describe the accreditation process you have to go through for SRSs just briefly?
MS RICE: So at the moment, obviously, as an SRS provider, we work under the SRS Act and Regulations. So, we have to have a series of policies and procedures that meet those requirements. So, all of that is evidence and documented. And then we are subject, like we were with the other SRSs, to to working with the Human Services Regulator who can obviously do they can do unannounced visits and booked in visits to actually come on to the premises and actually see that we are meeting meeting the Regulations, I suppose.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: But you think that's pretty thin compared with the NDIS accreditation and aged-care accreditation?
MS RICE: Compared to aged care I mean, I've come from I mean, Bryan oversees multiple residential aged-care facilities in his role as CEO, but I have come from managing an aged-care facility, and I did that for seven years at Wintringham. And the system that was that's in place with management of complaints, breaches or any reports that go to the Aged Care Commission, the scrutiny that Wintringham or as a manager that I was under and what I had to respond to and the quality the face to face quality visits, you really couldn't compare. So, very different.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And is the SRS model audited? Are you audited regularly about standards and quality?
MR LIPMANN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Right. And, Mr Lipmann, what should the government provide in this space instead of SRSs, if I could ask you?
CHAIR: Commissioner Galbally, do you mean the State Government or the Commonwealth Government or both?
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Let's start with State. Yes.
MR LIPMANN: Well, I think that there are possibilities of having some interim service from independent housing to, in our case, aged care facilities and they could be an SRS model, but it has to be run in a different way than it is now and it has to be properly audited. I think once government funds start to go in and flow into a service, there has to be some level of accountability on how those funds are used, and we would we would welcome that. But we have presented some preliminary thoughts to government about how a service like this could survive. They clearly if you want to have the not-for-profit involved in it involvement in it, it needs to be viable. And I and I think it it can be, but it can't be in the way it currently is.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And it also needs to be liveable, I
MR LIPMANN: Liveable, and also yes, and, I mean, there are outrageous, these photos that you saw. I mean, they are nothing like what we provide. Nothing like that and yet there are so many of those clients who are on the verge of being eligibility for our mainstream services. These are people who are lost to the system.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Would you mind sending in your preliminary thoughts that you have written down about
MR LIPMANN: Yes, sure.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thanks.
CHAIR: Well, I think we might organise that, please, through Counsel to determine whether and how that might be done an appropriate fashion.
MS RICE: And I think just as a final comment is, in terms of the different types of accommodation, what we would have really liked access to, there was a group of people in the pension level SRSs who don't want to live by themselves. So they are looking for a community of people around them. So, that that small, shared accommodation style, that congregate living, there's space for that to be done really well. And the NDIS could assist with that.
Our problem was it was very difficult to access. You couldn't access it quickly, and most people didn't have the funds in their plan. You know, it is big dollars. If respite, for example, for someone costs $14,000 that's what it cost none of our men and women in these SRSs they didn't have, you know, money that their plan to pay for that. So, finding a solution to homelessness through the NDIS was really really difficult.
And I don't really think at the moment there is a good response to people who are homeless. The planners who assign the funds and work with us really struggle to know sometimes what even an SRS is. They think it's an aged care facility. You say the person is homeless could have you funds for someone to work on that. There is not a response from NDIS or within a plan that can provide appropriate supports to even help someone find housing.
It's just not it's not a category, you know. It wasn't really there. So we had to actually then do that work. Unfunded NDIS work.
MR LIPMANN: There is, very quickly, a further point that Kate alluded to but probably needs the Commission needs to be aware of it. When Wintringham started I was able to successfully negotiate with government that homeless people who had prematurely aged could enter aged care at 50 and above. And that was pretty well our model of care. So, these were prematurely aged homeless people. Now, for all the wonderful benefits of NDIS, it has created and the Royal Commission which we spoke to in the Aged Care Royal Commission, they have decided that people under 65 shouldn't be in aged care. But for some people, they should, and it's really it has made it that much more difficult for us and for Kate, for example, to have clients who are needing aged care but
MS RICE: They can't get in.
MR LIPMANN: They can't get in. So, I think that we are working with the Commonwealth on trying to resolve that and there is goodwill on both sides to get it resolved, but at this stage it certainly is an impediment to people who are prematurely aged to get into aged care.
MS RICE: With higher clinical issues.
MR LIPMANN: With higher clinical issue, yes. And I think the other issue is, too, that while many of our clients like to live independently and most of our clients do live independently with appropriate supports, there are some people who do like congregate living. And we have a number of people who have come from SRSs who were in some cases flyblown, and they were on death's door. And they have been on one guy I was with last night, I mean, he's been with us 17 years. He survived and prospered. And he loves the congregate living. He's got friends there, he's got support. Now, it's not not that congregate living or community, as we what would call it, is right for everyone, but it is right for some.
CHAIR: Alright thank you. Just by way of comment, your observation about the scrutiny of aged care, of course, we have just had an Aged Care Royal Commission. It doesn't always work does it?
MS RICE: No, that's right.
CHAIR: So even the even the system that appears to be very effective may, in fact, turn out to be, at least for certain purposes, not to be terribly effective at all. I want to ask you a question, and this is not intended to cast any doubt on the quality of the services you provide, but it's something that has arisen in a number of previous hearings. I notice that, as far as I can tell, the directors of Wintringham, none of them are people with disability, lived experience with disability. Is that right?
MR LIPMANN: I think that's right. Yes.
CHAIR: Do you think there might be virtue in having on the board of directors someone with lived experience of disability?
MR LIPMANN: Absolutely. I will pass that on to the president. We absolutely, and it's always open for boards to work on.
CHAIR: I raise the issue because it's been raised in a number of other hearings with service providers. I stress I'm not raising it for the purpose of querying the work that you do. But it's a general issue that has arisen. And it's one for the Commission to consider. Alright. Thank you. I'm assuming there is no one who wishes to ask any questions? Alright thank you. In that case, thank you very much for giving evidence and for the written material that you have provided. As Commissioner Galbally indicated, your evidence has been extremely informative. Thank you.
MS RICE: Thank you.
CHAIR: Do we take an adjournment now?
MS DOWSETT: Yes, please, Chair.
CHAIR: Until when?
MS DOWSETT: If we could take 15 minutes.
CHAIR: How long?
MS DOWSETT: 15 minutes.
CHAIR: It's now 11.35. Let us make it 11.55 we will return.
<THE WITNESSES WITHDREW
<ADJOURNED 11:36 AM
<RESUMED 11:58 AM
CHAIR: Yes, Ms Dowsett.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Before I hand over to Mr Fogarty and the next witness, I would like to address the issue of tender of documents and tender the pre recorded interview of Denise that was played earlier today. I tender the video into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 26-07.
CHAIR: What's the reference for it, please? What's does it have an identification?
MS DOWSETT: It doesn't sorry, yes, IND.0181.0003.0001.
CHAIR: That enables us to know what it is.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Alright that can be admitted into evidence.
<EXHIBIT 26-07 PRE RECORDED INTERVIEW OF DENISE, IND.0181.0003.0001
MS DOWSETT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Yes. Mr Fogarty.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you, Chair. The next witness is Jacob which isn't his real name; it's a pseudonym and Jacob is a former resident of Gracemanor, also known as Meadowbrook, situated in Melton South in the north western suburbs of Melbourne. While it won't be played today, Jacob participated in a pre recorded video with me in June. That can be found behind Hearing Bundle B1, tab 1 and a transcript behind B1, tab 2. There are also some documents associated with Jacob, four of those in Hearing Bundle B3, behind tabs 1 to 4.
CHAIR: But you are not tendering those at the moment?
MR FOGARTY: No, I don't seek to. I understand Jacob will take an affirmation, Chair.
CHAIR: Jacob, thank you for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence and I know you have had a previous interview which has been recorded and which will in due course form part of the evidence. So, we appreciate your assistance to the Commission. If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is over here, he will administer the affirmation.
JACOB: Thank you.
<EXAMINATION BY MR FOGARTY
CHAIR: Thank you, Jacob. I will now ask Mr Fogarty to ask you some questions.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you, Chair. Jacob, before I ask you questions, I would like to acknowledge that your experiences at Gracemanor prior to January this year, when Wintringham took over administration and we heard some evidence and I think you sat in through that evidence today involved for you a lot of frustration in how it was run. I would like to thank you for coming today and I would like to thank you for the pre-recording that you've done to assist the Royal Commission to understand your experience. If there is any moment in my questions that you feel you need a break, please let me know.
MR FOGARTY: We can do that. And I'm still learning this, but if we can go slow for the interpreters, that would be much appreciated.
MR FOGARTY: Jacob, you were born and raised in Sunbury, which is in north western Melbourne?
MR FOGARTY: And you are the youngest of four boys?
MR FOGARTY: And you are still quite close with I will call him number 3 one of your brothers?
MR FOGARTY: And he assists you with engaging the NDIS, with your Disability Support Pension, administration and forms.
MR FOGARTY: And you have a very close relationship with him still?
MR FOGARTY: You went through school in the Sunbury area with your brothers?
JACOB: I did, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And in after school, as I understand it, you worked with the Dunlop factory for a number of years?
JACOB: Not directly after school, but the main job, the last sort of job, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. Alright. And that was I will come to that until 2016, I think you were there.
JACOB: Something like that, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And was it 15 or 20 years you worked there?
JACOB: It was about 17 or 18 years, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And you started from a storeman and worked up to
JACOB: Yes, became dispatch clerk, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And you enjoyed working there?
JACOB: Yes, yes.
MR FOGARTY: What did you
JACOB: The storeman work was menial sort of stuff. The clerk's job, I really loved that, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And you liked the social side or the community side of a place to work as well?
JACOB: It was alright, you know. You know, they're workmates, not your friends, necessarily. They're associates, you know. So you know. Yes, got on well with them, yes.
MR FOGARTY: I see. You I think in 2018 or 2019, you became eligible for the Disability Support Pension.
JACOB: Yes, something around there, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And depression is one of the is a diagnosis that
MR FOGARTY: That made you eligible for the Disability Support Pension.
MR FOGARTY: And is that something, that psychosocial disability, as it's sometimes called or a type of is that something that has affected you in over the course of your life?
JACOB: It wasn't something I recognised in my early life, but as I got older and met other people with depression and that, I recognised things that I had had all through my life that were there, yes. Like, even in HSC at one stage, one morning when mum woke me up, I said, no, not going, and I stopped going for about a week. And she got the prefect from the school to come and chat to me to get me to go back to school yes
MR FOGARTY: So as early as your teens?
JACOB: Certainly, yes.
MR FOGARTY: You also have a physical disability, ankylosing spondylitis?
MR FOGARTY: How does that affect you?
JACOB: What it does is it causes inflammation on the soft tissue, you so you have tendon, ligament and cartridge. So my back is frozen up, I can't bend my spine. And on your chest where the ribs connect to the sternum is cartilage and they are sort of frozen up, so it reduces your expansion of the chest for breathing and that, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. And I understand you in later life and I think it was after you worked at Dunlop, you did a Certificate in Aged Care and Home and Community Care at one point?
JACOB: Yes, a Certificate III yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And did you have an idea that you might work in that field?
JACOB: That was a course that I got to go through Centrelink, through you know, job training to try to help you get back to work type thing, but, you know, at that stage, I think basically through time already away from work and plus on top of that my age, you know, got sort of thrown on the employment scrap heap, yes.
MR FOGARTY: So currently you are 60?
MR FOGARTY: And was this around so 2016, you finished thereabouts with Dunlop?
JACOB: No, no, it was actually earlier was Dunlop. I think gee, that would have been about 2007, actually
MR FOGARTY: Alright. Were you on
JACOB: Then I was living
MR FOGARTY: the Centrelink pension from that stage?
JACOB: Not straight away. Because at the time I had the payout from being retrenched. And then mum passed away and got some money from that. And basically, with the depression, it was a matter of getting around to things not getting around to things, sort of thing. So, I never got around to joining up to Centrelink and that until I ran out of money.
MR FOGARTY: Right.
JACOB: Basically, and then I sort of, like, had no choice, better do something about it.
MR FOGARTY: And did your brother assist with you that at the time?
JACOB: It was later on when I was got told about the NDIS and advised to go in after that that I got advised to get somebody to help with it and so I put him as power of attorney because he's really good with dotting the ‘i’s around crossing the ‘t’s sort of stuff, yes.
MR FOGARTY: In terms of where you lived over time, when you worked in the Dunlop factory, you lived in private rental in Coburg for some time; is that right?
MR FOGARTY: And I think you paid the real estate you engaged with the real estate directly?
MR FOGARTY: And then you moved from that property to Oak Park, another suburb in Melbourne.
MR FOGARTY: You stayed in Oak Park from 1995 to
JACOB: September 1995 until the SRS, so 2016.
MR FOGARTY: So, 2016 was when
JACOB: About 21 years, yes.
MR FOGARTY: You left there because the landlord's son was going to move in; is that right? Something
JACOB: No, I was getting evicted and, you know, with things that were happening and that, I was getting behind on bills and stuff too, yes
MR FOGARTY: Alright. Have you lived in public or social housing in your life?
JACOB: Never before, no.
MR FOGARTY: Have you ever applied to.
MR FOGARTY: You haven't. Alright. Is there a reason for that?
JACOB: Never had a need to before.
MR FOGARTY: What about before going into the to Gracemanor the SRS or Meadowbrook, as you sometimes call it. Did you consider public housing then?
JACOB: No. Never thought about it. No
MR FOGARTY: Alright. Your I think you have just given that you are on the NDIS?
MR FOGARTY: And I think your brother assisted you to apply?
JACOB: Yes, to navigate through that, yes. Organising appointments and paperwork and everything, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Looking back, is it something you think you could have done on your own? The application side of things and your assessment
JACOB: Well, I have got a reasonably good head on my shoulders, so I could have probably done it in the long run, but, like, with the depression and that, it would have been a long drawn out process. I would have been slow getting to things and letting things go by. And So, with him he was all over it sort of thing, yes
MR FOGARTY: You have a support coordinator.
MR FOGARTY: And you are in my words, but tell me if I'm wrong, you are happy with how they support you and assist with you the NDIS?
JACOB: My support coordinators is fantastic. My support worker is great yes. I've got a good I have worked been lucky have got a good team. I have seen some bad one, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. Can I ask you to reflect back to 2016. You moved into Gracemanor. It's in Melton South; correct?
MR FOGARTY: And that's not far from Sunbury; is that right?
JACOB: Not a long way, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And was it an area, Melton South, that you would have gone around as a young person or as a kid?
JACOB: When I played squash and that, we went there to play against teams in squash and that. So it was occasionally I went to Melton but not a lot, but I was familiar with it, yes.
MR FOGARTY: When you moved into Gracemanor, do you recall how many other people were there, roughly?
JACOB: The whole time I was there, it was probably 25 to 30 people, you know, yes. Around about that, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Was that consistent that there would always be
JACOB: Yes, pretty much, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And what about the division of male and female. Did that change? What was that?
JACOB: It was probably about two to one male to female.
MR FOGARTY: Alright.
MR FOGARTY: And, again, is that consistent over the you were there five and a half years.
JACOB: Yes, that stayed pretty consistent, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And what about age wise, what was the what were the
JACOB: Oh, geez, we had people as young as 20/21 and right up to people that were 60s and 70s, even, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And did you have your own room?
MR FOGARTY: And you saw earlier in the evidence from Wintringham some photos.
JACOB: Yes, I recognised some of those rooms, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Some of those were from Gracemanor, were they?
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And you had your own room, but were there share rooms of the type you might have seen in those photos earlier?
JACOB: Yes. There was the one who had the share room, the people who had gone missing, I was actually recognise the room and know the people who were in that, yes.
MR FOGARTY: I see. Can I ask you this, when you moved into Gracemanor, did have you a personal support plan or a support plan?
JACOB: Not that I'm aware I think when I first got there, they sort of done the paperwork that they had to do but nothing really happened. And it was never updated or anything. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. When you say paperwork, was that an agreement or a plan or do you do you not remember?
JACOB: It was like the rental agreement type thing, and but there was there was something, I think, with the personal plan or something. But they basically wrote down from the disability things that I had there, so they worked it out from that. So, it wasn't so much going through it with me, but yes, no, that was just doing a bit of paperwork. Nothing ever happened with it.
MR FOGARTY: What about there over time? You were there five and a half years. Did you
JACOB: No, never done.
MR FOGARTY: Sat down and discussed what supports you needed?
JACOB: Never, no.
MR FOGARTY: When you moved in, just to be clear, you were on a Centrelink pension that wasn't the Disability Support.
JACOB: I was on Newstart.
MR FOGARTY: On Newstart and then two or so years in, it changed.
JACOB: Changed to the NDIS, yes.
MR FOGARTY: To the Disability Support Pension.
JACOB: To the Disability Support Pension, yes, sorry.
MR FOGARTY: And probably at the same time your brother was assisting you to apply for NDIS?
MR FOGARTY: Alright.
CHAIR: How did you get to that place in the beginning?
JACOB: Well, we were looking for accommodation that I could afford and everything, and through Vinnie Care, and at the time, it was actually something new that they came across. I think it was I actually think it was my brother that found out about it from somewhere and mentioned it to the guy and he was like, "Oh, wow, this place." Yes, so it was something new for them too at the time, so it was through them we found it, yes.
CHAIR: Okay. Thank you.
MR FOGARTY: When you moved to Gracemanor in 2016 you were charged, am I right, $330 a week?
CHAIR: Did you say a week?
MR FOGARTY: Yes. And that didn't change until 2021; is that right?
JACOB: That's right, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And it went up to 360 a week?
JACOB: 360 a week, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Thinking about both your Newstart but then also your Disability Support Pension, how much, when it was $330 per week, were you left?
JACOB: When I first moved in there and was on Newstart, it left me about $20 a fortnight.
MR FOGARTY: A fortnight?
JACOB: After the rent and that was taken out, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright.
CHAIR: What did you get for the $330 per week? What was provided to you?
JACOB: A room with a bed. They washed the bed sheets once a week, cleaned the room once a week. And meals and obviously electricity and gas and the like. Yes, bills.
CHAIR: How were the meals provided? Was there a communal dining room or what?
JACOB: It was actually a formerly a private hospital so it had a kitchen area and a dining area. And, yes, you go up there a lot of times and get your meal and you can sit in the dining area, or you can take it back to your room if you wanted. Yes.
CHAIR: I see, thank you.
MR FOGARTY: On meals, how would you describe the food and meals when you first moved in there?
JACOB: When I first moved in, I'd probably describe them something like your Shell servo restaurant. So, they were alright but not, you know, not, like a restaurant sort of thing, yes.
MR FOGARTY: What about nutrition wise?
JACOB: When I first moved in, okay, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. Did you get fresh fruit and that sort of thing offered to you?
JACOB: Not a lot. We did see the fruit truck the fruit van that would come in I think once a week sort of thing and deliver boxes of fruit. And I think a lot of it went home in their boot because it wasn't much of it that we saw.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACOB: And then when Wintringham took over, all of a sudden it was like, lots of fruit and veggies on the table you know, all of a sudden it was there.
MR FOGARTY: So it was a stark contrast when they took over?
JACOB: Yes, much different.
MR FOGARTY: Did the meals and the food change over time?
JACOB: When Wintringham came in, they did, but before that, yes. Like I said, early on, they were the Shell servo, but pretty quickly it deteriorated and, yes, they were horrible towards the end, yeah.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. Were you able to come and go from Gracemanor?
JACOB: Yes, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And there are shops down the road; is that right?
JACOB: Yes. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: So could you go and, with your 20 bucks a fortnight, go and buy food down there?
JACOB: Yes, couldn't afford much with your $20, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. You just mentioned to the Chair about a cleaner coming in once a week. You shared communal toilets and
MR FOGARTY: Toilets and a shower or bathroom; is that right?
MR FOGARTY: Did anyone, any other residents have an ensuite bathroom?
JACOB: Some of the rooms had in a lot of cases, it was like two rooms had an ensuite between them where they had their own ensuite. One or two of them had an ensuite to themselves.
MR FOGARTY: Okay. And how many people
JACOB: Would have had ensuites?
MR FOGARTY: No, how many people would have shared the communal toilet?
JACOB: Oh, the communal toilet? 20, 25 or something.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And what about the you say the cleaning the cleaner came in but was that cleaning for the the bathroom or
JACOB: Yes, well, they were there Monday to Friday, so they go through the baths bathrooms and toilets, but they were still not not real clean, and doors didn't lock on most of the toilets and, you know, pretty run down and the maintenance was poor.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACOB: And then they didn't have cleaners on the weekend but people still use toilets and showers on the weekends.
MR FOGARTY: Of course. And you were talking about cleaning the communal part area?
MR FOGARTY: What about your room? Did someone clean your room?
JACOB: Once a week. Yes. They would give it a sweep and a mop sort of thing, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Would you be there always? Or sometimes they would come when you weren't there?
JACOB: Sometimes they would come when I wasn't there, but, usually, I would work with the cleaner, you know, make sure they were able to get in if I wasn't there, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. Do you think that was enough cleaning of your enough assistance for you with cleaning of your room per week or not?
JACOB: I think once a week with the cleaning of my room was good enough, yes, for me. For the room. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: What about the communal areas and the bathrooms?
JACOB: No, I think that needed well, that the passages and that got swept and mopped or whatever daily, but like I said, they were Monday to Friday. On the weekend, they weren't there so if someone made a mess in one of the toilets and that, the staff would leave it until the cleaner came in on Monday, and they would sort of close off that toilet.
MR FOGARTY: Okay. And you would have to make do with whatever?
JACOB: Yes, you would use another toilet.
MR FOGARTY: How many toilets were in the communal?
JACOB: There was about three or four around the place and they would have a couple of toilets and cubicle in each of them, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And you said I think you just said that the toilet doors, the lock, they didn't lock?
JACOB: No, no. Most of them didn't lock. When I came there, some of them didn't have locks. Some of the locks didn't work. And that was like that until Wintringham came in and started doing some maintenance work.
MR FOGARTY: For five, five and a half years?
MR FOGARTY: Was there a maintenance person that came along?
JACOB: There was people that were there as maintenance, but, you know, come and go and kept sort of changing. But you would tell them something was happening, was wrong or something. I don't know if they even got told about it you know.
MR FOGARTY: Was there a
JACOB: got rectified.
MR FOGARTY: Sorry, Jacob. Was there a feedback or complaints system or method you could do?
JACOB: Not really. They used to say, "If you have a problem, let us know." But then times when I complained, they would go you know, would be talking to my brother about he's always complaining. What are you supposed to do?
MR FOGARTY: Yes. What about heating your of your rooms over winter, for example. Was there heating?
JACOB: They had those those old bar heaters along down the walls sort of thing. And the pump out the back so the switch a switch out there put it on. And quite often you would have the heaters on during the day, Monday to Friday when it was like office hours and people will be coming in from outside and coming and going, but then at night time it was cold or whatever on the weekends, they would be switching them off to save gas.
MR FOGARTY: And these are the ones in your room? Is there one in the room?
JACOB: Yes, it was one switch outside that ran the heaters for all the rooms.
MR FOGARTY: So could you control it or you had to go outside?
JACOB: Well, I knew where the switch was, so I used to go out and switch it on. But when they realised I'd switched it on, they'd go and switch it off, and once they even put a padlock on the cabinet to stop me getting in there and switching it on.
MR FOGARTY: What about electricity to your room and lighting and things?
JACOB: Yes, we had electricity but I had a situation there where, at one stage, there was a fuse on the switchboard that kept flicking off that was supplying the power points to about seven rooms, including mine.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACOB: So when it went, you had light but no power, no telly, no kettle, no nothing. You know. And for the seven rooms and I was complaining do them about it for months and they wouldn't do anything, and I actually ended up going on a bit of a hunger strike, because they wouldn't go it. And then eventually something else went wrong and that's when they eventually got the electrician in and fixed it.
MR FOGARTY: And you how long did you go on your hunger strike for? Quite a while?
JACOB: Well, that was from the start of August, early August so about 5 August or something until about 28 December.
MR FOGARTY: You lost quite a lot of weight, didn't you?
JACOB: About 13 kilograms.
MR FOGARTY: I think you just drank coffee, didn't you?
JACOB: Drank coffee and there was one of these Second Bite type things that I used to see once a week, so I was probably having about one or two meals a week, but I wasn't eating anything from there. I was refusing to eat anything that they served.
MR FOGARTY: You mentioned that there was a laundry service. When we met in June, I will quote what you said to me then. You said:
"It was really hard getting your stuff back."
JACOB: Absolutely, yes.
"You get other people's stuff and other stuff would disappear. You had to be straight on to them so they could find where they had gotten it from."
MR FOGARTY: Was that your experience the whole five and a half years?
JACOB: That was everybody's experience all the time. Yes. You know, I would only give them three or four things at a time to wash, so that I knew what was there. And I would be straight on to them, as soon as it came back I would be straight on to them to make sure I got back what I gave them, and if I had other people's stuff or stuff missing, I was straight on to them. I was like, who else's stuff did you just wash? They just have my stuff.
MR FOGARTY: Was it on site they washed on site?
JACOB: Yes it was on site. They had laundry.
MR FOGARTY: Could you go and use the laundry there?
JACOB: No, but then toward the end they had one girl that used to use the laundry, that they let use the laundry for some reason, but early on, no. We weren't allowed. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: There was a a cordless phone handset there for residents, wasn't there?
MR FOGARTY: And did you use that or
JACOB: When you could. I mean, you know, sometimes a lot of the time it was only the one phone and 25, 30 people and so a lot of times someone else was using it or when they finished using it was left lying in their room and then you had to try to figure out who had it.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACOB: Then when you found, it would be flat. And then other times it was times when it wasn't working and two or three weeks that it wasn't working. And people couldn't you know, we couldn't call out. When people called in, they wouldn't pass on messages. Oh, communication with the outside was terrible
MR FOGARTY: Was there an office number as well?
JACOB: There was an office number for calling in, yes. But a lot of times you know, people would call for me, my support worker, my brother, you know, and they wouldn't get through to me.
MR FOGARTY: And I think you mentioned when we last met in June something about the mail, you got some mail for an appointment?
JACOB: I had an appointment at Western Health for I got given the letter, saying, "You got a letter here", and I opened it up. It was for an appoint appointment a month ago and the letter was dated a month before the appointment. You know.
MR FOGARTY: So that
JACOB: Yes. And then we stay earlier the photo of the piles of mail that they had sitting there. That was the same facility where we saw those photos earlier.
MR FOGARTY: Can I and so really in terms of communication you with the outside world, you were able to come and go. But you relied on a mobile phone, I suppose.
JACOB: Yes, well, I generally I have got a mobile phone but have prepaid. A lot of the time, it's not even got charge on it now. So, yes, as the only way to communicate was with your own phone.
MR FOGARTY: For instance, if your brother wanted to contact you, that's how he would do it.
JACOB: Either turn up at the door or
MR FOGARTY: He would come. Can I ask you, fire safety, did you ever have any fire drills in the five and a half years?
JACOB: No. We had one time there was, went out to the front porch and there was a lady in from cohealth that was talking to the proprietor, and I heard her ask him about fire drills. He said, yes, yes we have fire drills. And so I chipped in, I said, when do we have fire drills? He said, "Oh, remember last month and the fire alarm went off. We count that as a fire drill." That's not a fire drill, you didn't check, you know, who stayed in their rooms, who came out or what did the staff do, nothing. It was just a fire alarm.
MR FOGARTY: And you saw some photo or a photo earlier of a locked front door. What do you know what the exit
JACOB: With the chain and the padlock?
MR FOGARTY: In terms of Gracemanor when you were there, what was at night time, could you was the front door and any other door locked?
JACOB: They would lock the front door. There was a side door we could always come in and out of, even at night.
MR FOGARTY: Did you have a key for that?
JACOB: No, it wasn't locked.
MR FOGARTY: Right. So anyone could have walked in there?
MR FOGARTY: And the block is on a corner, isn't it?
JACOB: Yes, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And there's a drive driveway and a gate to come through.
MR FOGARTY: Was that gate closed at night, do you remember?
MR FOGARTY: Alright.
JACOB: You know, he's recently put up the new fence that's got those gates on it, but before that, they didn't even have a gate on the fence.
MR FOGARTY: Right. They've always had a fence around it, have they, when you have been there?
JACOB: Yes, the old fence was just posts with, like, a pipe, rail across the top. So, no wire or anything. You could walk through it.
MR FOGARTY: And how high off the ground was it?
JACOB: You know, 3.3 feet sort of thing, yes.
MR FOGARTY: You were there during the COVID breakout and the lockdowns?
JACOB: Yes. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: How did that affect you day to day when the lockdowns were on?
JACOB: I was pretty lucky because the shops that I usually go to up the street were ones that weren't locked down. Weren't shut down by the lockdown, so I was pretty much able to get to the shops that I usually go to. But where it did affect was all like cohealth and advocates and all those sorts of people weren't coming in
MR FOGARTY: Weren't able to come in.
JACOB: Yeah. And, like cohealth in particular, the guy from cohealth, I used to use as an advocate sometimes when I had a beef with the proprietor.
MR FOGARTY: But you you personally weren't able to do video calls or the like at that time?
MR FOGARTY: Okay. I think you what about vaccinations at Gracemanor? Did that happen for COVID?
JACOB: Yes, that was good. That was they brought in some a team or whatever to do the needles and so we were all able to get our shots and that. So that's one the great things, I think, about the SRSs, things like that are really easily dealt with, you know.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. And was there anyone who came down with COVID? I think
JACOB: There was when Wintringham came in, there was one stage where somebody had tested positive in hospital, so they came around and he gave us all a RAT test. And then their second test came up negative so it was all clear. But, yes, I'm not aware of anybody there actually getting COVID.
MR FOGARTY: It's not a bad strike rate.
JACOB: Yes, we were lucky.
MR FOGARTY: You are not you are not living at Gracemanor anymore?
MR FOGARTY: You have moved out in late June, I think?
JACOB: Yes. June 22, yes
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And where you are living now?
JACOB: Currently in Deer Park
MR FOGARTY: How far away from Melton South is that?
JACOB: Approximately 20 minutes
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And it's a four bedder?
JACOB: Yes, it's a four-bedroom house, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Who you are living there with? Obviously don't name names.
JACOB: There are three other residents there.
MR FOGARTY: Former residents?
JACOB: Two of them are former residents from my SRS, and the other one is from the Sydenham SRS, which was also part of that Grace. They were both Grace Disability. Yes, the other one is from there, yes
MR FOGARTY: Is there on site support?
JACOB: There is a worker there 24/7.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And you don't need to tell me the details if you don't know them, but does NDIS did some of your plan help with where you are living now or are you are not sure?
JACOB: Yes, the funding for it comes out of NDIS, I believe, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And are you are you planning to stay there long term or what's the plan?
JACOB: I'm trying I'm looking to getting back to Melton. We found a place back to Melton to move back into because a lot of the services and that I've used and familiarity of the town but a lot of the services are there, yes.
MR FOGARTY: So you want to be back in the
JACOB: We will be moving back to Melton shortly after I go back home, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And will that be with some of the fellows you are with in the
JACOB: With one of the other guys. Neither of us were happy with the Deer Park because we you know, got about a 15 minute walk to the nearest bus stop and about a 20 minute walk to the train station sort of thing. You know, so you are basically stranded there, you know.
MR FOGARTY: Whereas, what, Melton South there is a bus stop out the front?
JACOB: As in Deer Park. Melton South, yes, there is a plenty of bus routes.
MR FOGARTY: And there's a train stop?
JACOB: The place we're seeing in Melton South is actually a little bit off the bus route, but at least it's nice straight grid pattern roads. The area in Deer Park is these new estates where all the houses are cramped together and its bendy roads where you veer off this way and veer off that way, and you are going around in circles and don't know where you are, you know. I mean, like the 15 minute away bus stop, I wouldn't be able to find it. I would probably get lost.
MR FOGARTY: Right.
JACOB: You know, whereas when you have got a straight grid pattern, you know, first left, second right, you know.
MR FOGARTY: I'm going to quote again from something we talked about in June and that's in terms of, I guess, your ideal housing. I asked you, “If I waved a magic wand and gave you the housing you wanted there and then, what would you have?” You said:
"Look, if I had a magic wand I could wave, I would have had that place stay open..."
I think you meant Gracemanor?
"...with different administrators."
MR FOGARTY: Do you mean by that you don't mean Wintringham. You mean different managers; is that right?
JACOB: Yes, Wintringham would have been great to run it.
MR FOGARTY: And then you said:
"But then you've got to find a person that wants to take it over. But, yes, six of one half a dozen of the other. A roof over the head that's all that matters."
MR FOGARTY: What else do you miss about Gracemanor or what do you miss most about it?
JACOB: Well, the thing is, like, you will find in that 25, 30 people, most of them suffer from depression, for a start, and one of the things with depression is you don't want to leave the home. And so, basically, it's the only community they have contact with, you know, a lot of them. And, you know, you are bouncing off each other on you know, there's a Centrelink payment coming out. There's like have you heard about this payment? Do we get that or does that go to somewhere else? And you know, there was a lot of cross-referencing, you know. We all had similar interests because we were all on the you know, pension or whatever. And yes, so you had a lot of common interests where you could inform each other and get informed by others about what have you heard, what you know. What do you know? And, yeah, passed on like that. And, like, a lot of like. Even with some of the residents they sort of just got told what to do and they done it. And when they saw me fighting back, they sort of started saying, "Oh, we can complain, can we?" You know. And they started jacking up. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: So you liked that camaraderie?
JACOB: Yes, it was great, yes.
MR FOGARTY: I will move to the last topic I wanted to ask you about, and then I will hand over to the Chair and other Commissioners. The last topic is and we talked about this in June about recommendations or changes from a higher level, top level. One you spoke to me about that you would like to recommend is that there should be scrutiny of proprietors or managers when they first open or they first register. You didn't feel that the people that were running it for you, in your words, I think, were fit and proper, that you think there should be a fit and proper person assessment or screening; is that right?
JACOB: Yes. I don't think they were fit and proper to have any position in the care industry. Not even a cleaning position. You know.
MR FOGARTY: The second topic you talked about a similar vein is that there should be a regular auditing and supervision by regulators of SRSs and those who fund them.
JACOB: Not just SRSs, but the whole SRS, NDIS, State Trustee, yes, just to overlook that whole thing, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And then, lastly, and probably evident from what you have already said, but improvements or oversight of the quality of food, meals, diet.
MR FOGARTY: Maintenance for residents?
JACOB: Yes, fantastic when Wintringham came in. The proper food was being served then, yes. It was great.
MR FOGARTY: Was there anything any other topic that I have missed that you wanted to suggest to the Royal Commission that they have a think about from your experience at the SRS?
JACOB: Not that I mean, it was an old place. It was a bit run down. But a lot of the people there, like me, we're happy with a roof over our head, hot and cold running water. You know, the once a week cleaning that's great, you know. You don't need much. You don't need a fancy place, a lot of us. You know, but so it would be great if that place could have stayed open. But, yes, if it stayed open, he those people actually owned the property so they would have still been in the picture, you know.
MR FOGARTY: I see. One other topic before I hand over, sorry. You talked about some visitors coming to support and do some advocacy for you. Did the Community Visitor, the Public Advocate come people from that come from time to time? I think we talked about it in June.
JACOB: They came because I called them. There was something put up on the notice board about the Advocates and so I wrote down the number and got on to them. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. And were you raising complaints with them about
JACOB: Yes. They started coming in and I yes, anything that was going on, you would have a chat to them about, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Alright.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you, Chair. Those are my questions for Jacob. Thanks, Jacob.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Fogarty. Thank you, Jacob. If it's alright I will ask first Commissioner Galbally if she has any questions for you.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you very much. With cohealth, so what was their arrangement? You said that they would come to the door and they were sort of an advocate. What were they appointed as an advocate? Did you have
JACOB: No, the cohealth, he used to come in you know, he would chat to people to see how they were going and everything, but he also organised day trips and that. Like, you know, get us together and go to Werribee Park or something. You know. So, he was mainly there for that but because he was familiar with how the place was running and everything, and I just and because he was a good communicator, I just made use of him as an advocate because there was no one else like that around.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Right. But you're not quite sure how that arrangement happened? Whether that
JACOB: No, they were coming in already there when I first came there, yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: With the NDIS team that you've now got, did you select them? Have you have you seen
JACOB: No, that was good fortune. I did go through we went through a couple of other like, now I'm with Melbourne City Mission. We went through a couple of other ones before that and we just weren't getting really good communication back. So we sort of changed it. And, yes, with Melbourne City Mission, I've got a great coordinator yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And with the four-bedroom house in Deer Park that you are living in now, but you are moving to Melton, do you have to do your own cooking and cleaning there? How does that work?
JACOB: No, that's why they have someone there 24/7. They do the cooking and cleaning, yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: So that's okay. You're
JACOB: Generally, they are there to make sure we are safe, yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Right. And then your NDIS team come in and work with you?
JACOB: My support worker comes a couple of times a week, yes, and then I go out to her, yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming in.
JACOB: Thank you.
HIS HONOUR: I will ask Commissioner Ryan.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: I have no questions, Mr Chair. Thank you.
CHAIR: In that case, Jacob, thank you very much for giving evidence.
JACOB: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you for the interview that you did earlier on with Mr Fogarty, I think. Your evidence is very helpful to us, and we very much appreciate the assistance you have provided to the Royal Commission. So, thank you.
JACOB: Thank you so much for this opportunity. Thank you.
<THE WITNESS WITHDREW
CHAIR: Mr Fogarty.
MR FOGARTY: As I understand it, it's a lunch break.
CHAIR: Yes. So, we should now adjourn. It's now about 12.37. Let's adjourn to 1.35.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you, Chair.
<ADJOURNED 12:38 PM
MS BENNETT: Commissioners, the next witness goes by the name of ‘Bel’, she will be with us in a moment, I apologise for the slight confusion. It might be indeed best if I propose to adjourn for just two minutes. I apologise, Commissioners. If we could just have two minutes to get the room ready properly.
CHAIR: Right. Okay. We will save the knock so that can be used again.
MS BENNETT: Thank you.
<ADJOURNED 1:36 PM
<RESUMED 1:38 PM
CHAIR: Yes. Ms Bennett.
<EXAMINATION BY MS BENNETT
MS BENNETT: Thank you, Commissioners. Commissioners, this is ‘Bel’, and ‘Bel’ would like to tell you about herself and about where she lives. So, ‘Bel’, you are 34 years old; is that right? If you try and say a big yes for me?
MS BENNETT: Good work. Now, you live with some depression and anxiety and borderline personality disorder. Is that right?
MS BENNETT: And that makes some things a bit hard for you sometimes?
MS BENNETT: Okay. Tell us about the things that you like doing, ‘Bel’. Can you tell us you like watching television. What kind of television do you like to watch?
MS BENNETT: Yes. Do you like Stranger Things?
MS BENNETT: What about Riverdale?
MS BENNETT: Have you seen the new season?
MS BENNETT: Excellent. Do you like you like going out with some of your support workers sometimes?
MS BENNETT: And they take you to the hills.
MS BENNETT: Where else do they take you sometimes?
‘BEL’: To my friend's coffee shop.
MS BENNETT: Coffee. You like coffee?
‘BEL’: Who wouldn't?
MS BENNETT: That's a great answer.
‘BEL’: You're crazy if you don't.
MS BENNETT: I agree with you. And you like to have coffee most days, then?
MS BENNETT: Just the one?
‘BEL’: Are you frigging kidding me?
MS BENNETT: No. I think you say in your statement you are a total coffee addict; is that right?
MS BENNETT: Great. Now, you get some help from some support workers that are funded by the NDIS; is that right?
MS BENNETT: So you have a psychologist and an occupational therapist. And you find they help you a lot.
MS BENNETT: You like talking to your psychologist?
MS BENNETT: That's great. Now, you have you have lived you live in an SRS. Is that right?
MS BENNETT: Do you know how much money you pay to live in an SRS?
MS BENNETT: $920, is it?
MS BENNETT: Every fortnight?
MS BENNETT: And you get your own room and bathroom; is that right?
MS BENNETT: And do you have much money left over after the $920 a fortnight?
MS BENNETT: At the house you live in, do you what do you like to do there? Do you like to watch TV there?
MS BENNETT: Can you watch Netflix in your own room?
MS BENNETT: Is there any Netflix in your room?
MS BENNETT: Is there some Netflix in the common area?
MS BENNETT: And how many people do you share the SRS with? How many people live at your SRS, do you think, roughly?
‘BEL’: 30 to 40 people.
MS BENNETT: And are they older than you or younger than you? Let me ask that again. Are they are they mainly a bit older than you?
‘BEL’: They're a lot older.
MS BENNETT: Does it make it a bit hard to make friends sometimes?
‘BEL’: Yes, but I don't like them anyway.
MS BENNETT: And is the SRS you live in, is it clean and tidy?
MS BENNETT: And when you moved in there, I think you said that you would need some help from the SRS to keep your room tidy, didn't you? Is that right?
MS BENNETT: And do you mind, ‘Bel’, if I show a couple of photos of your room?
MS BENNETT: Is that okay?
MS BENNETT: Alright. I will ask the operators to show Exhibit 1, which is 0003. You will see it comes up on this screen. It's a picture of your room.
MS BENNETT: And that's what it looked like most of the time until pretty recently? Is that right? Could you say yes for the transcript?
MS BENNETT: Is that right?
MS BENNETT: And did you find it pretty hard to get help to tidy it up?
MS BENNETT: Did you want it to be a bit tidier than that?
MS BENNETT: Could I ask the operator to show 0006. Is that also your room?
MS BENNETT: And it looked like that until pretty recently, didn't it?
MS BENNETT: And I think when your lawyer asked for some sheets recently, you got given some sheets. Is that right?
MS BENNETT: So you've had sheets on your bed for the last few weeks; is that right?
CHAIR: Sorry, Ms Bennett are we talking about the share house or SRS B?
MS BENNETT: No, sir. This is the SRS where ‘Bel’ is living at the moment.
CHAIR: Right. Okay. Thank you.
MS BENNETT: I will ask the operator to bring that photo down. You've slept on a bed without sheets, at times, for weeks at a time, haven't you? Has it been a bit hard to get what you've asked for sometimes?
MS BENNETT: You sometimes wish that you could have some sheets for your bed a bit more.
MS BENNETT: Do you feel like you get a lot of support at the SRS for cleaning your room and washing your sheets and things?
MS BENNETT: Does that make you a bit sad?
‘BEL’: Not sad, but angry.
MS BENNETT: Yes. How about food? Is the kitchen can you go to the kitchen whenever you want at your SRS?
MS BENNETT: Is it open whenever you want to go and make yourself a snack?
MS BENNETT: When is there food for you at the SRS?
‘BEL’: Breakfast, lunch a bit of afternoon tea and dinner.
MS BENNETT: And do you get to choose the of food you want to eat?
MS BENNETT: What sort of food would you like to choose to eat?
‘BEL’: I want to be on a fruit and veggie diet.
MS BENNETT: You would like to eat more fruits and vegetables. Do you not get many at the moment?
‘BEL’: None at all.
MS BENNETT: You don't get much of a choice about what's on the menu?
MS BENNETT: What if you sleep through a meal? Do you still get to catch it up?
MS BENNETT: You just miss breakfast.
‘BEL’: If you miss breakfast, you miss breakfast.
MS BENNETT: You've got some medication that you take to help you sometimes; is that right?
‘BEL’: Yes, every lunchtime.
MS BENNETT: Yes. And the SRS is meant to keep your medication for you and help you to have it at the right time? Is that right? Or do you keep it yourself?
‘BEL’: They give it to me at lunchtime.
MS BENNETT: And is that okay? Do you normally do you get your medication when you need it?
‘BEL’: Sometimes it's, like, a struggle.
MS BENNETT: Do you know the people you can go to when you are having a bit of a struggle with getting your medication?
MS BENNETT: And they are is there something you want to tell the Commissioners, Bel? It's okay.
‘BEL’: That's alright.
MS BENNETT: Now, this isn't the first time that I'm sorry, before you go there, you need some help to shower sometimes, don't you?
‘BEL’: All the time, yes.
MS BENNETT: Yes. And you would like it if you could just have a female worker to help you with that, wouldn't you?
MS BENNETT: And do you have female staff at the SRS who can help you to do that?
‘BEL’: She just recently decided not to
MS BENNETT: Does that make it hard for to you have showers when you want to?
MS BENNETT: It makes it hard for to you keep yourself as clean as you want to. Now, this isn't the first SRS or before I do that, you sometimes feel like it's you don't feel safe at your SRS.
MS BENNETT: Sometimes you get a bit scared of people coming in and out?
MS BENNETT: You let me know if you need a break.
CHAIR: Would you like to have a little break or are you okay? Would you like to have a little break? Or are you okay to go on?
CHAIR: To have a break. No, okay.
MS BENNETT: You have lived in other SRSs before. Is that right?
MS BENNETT: You have lived in a few over the last six years. Is that right? What sort of house do you think you would like to live in the future? Do you think you would like to live in a group home?
MS BENNETT: You say in your Statement:
“I often think I would rather live on the streets than continue to live at an SRS.”
Is that right? Is that how you feel sometimes?
‘BEL’: I always feel like that at the moment.
MS BENNETT: You always feel like that at the moment. I think you say as well that you would like to live in a group home where you could have much less people around. Is that right? So someone recently told you, you might be able to live in a house that will be shared with three or four other women and that you could live there.
MS BENNETT: Is that the sort of thing you would like?
MS BENNETT: Do you think you would need some support to be able to do that?
MS BENNETT: You say in your Statement you think a lot of people true and mute people with disability. Is that how you feel?
MS BENNETT: Is there anything you would like to say to the Commissioners about what you would like for yourself or other people who are in your situation? You don't have to.
‘BEL’: Like, actually listen and, like, consider us, like our feelings.
MS BENNETT: You want people to consider your feelings? Do you feel like people don't consider your feelings at the moment very much?
MS BENNETT: Is there anything that is there anything else that you would like to tell the Commissioners while they are listening to you today? They have your Statement and they have read your Statement. Is there anything you want to tell them while they are here?
‘BEL’: That staff are rude.
MS BENNETT: Staff are rude to you sometimes.
‘BEL’: Well, at the moment, like, others have always been rude to me.
MS BENNETT: Some of the staff are rude to you all the time?
MS BENNETT: You don't feel respected? That's okay. It's okay. It's okay. Everything is okay. There is a button. It's okay. There's a button. Everything is okay. It's okay. You just talk to the Commissioners. They want to hear from you. They want to hear from you.
‘BEL’: I think that my anxiety and my depression is, like, bad because, like like, for example, like, I will ask them to do my washing and, like, they will say they'll do it and then I come home and it's not done. And then, like, I just like end up yelling and screaming and swear at them because they just don't basically do what I ask unless, like, I get to the point where, like, I scream and, like, tell them off and swear.
MS BENNETT: And you wish you could just and you wish you could have a good and respectful relationship with the people that you live with?
‘BEL’: I just wish they would do their frigging job properly. Because then I won't act like this.
MS BENNETT: And that's been your experience in most of the SRSs you have lived at, is you have found them difficult when you have lived in them? Usually, you are the youngest in an SRS; is that right?
MS BENNETT: So it can be hard when you are the youngest. It's okay. ‘Bel’, those are the questions I wanted to ask you today. I want to make sure if there is anything else you want to say to the Commissioners so they have got your statement. Is there anything else you would like to tell them about yourself?
‘BEL’: That sometimes I don't understand, like, what's, like like, just up and down emotions. Like, it's hard to pinpoint, like, what's actually going on.
MS BENNETT: And you would like to live somewhere where there is a bit more support for you; is that right?
‘BEL’: Yes, like, I feel like like it it might not happen but if I'm having a meltdown and, like, they will probably, like, listen to me and and ask me, like, my needs, so like if I need space they'll, like, probably give it to me. Like, I need, like, them just to be there, they'll probably, like, be there.
MS BENNETT: And that hasn't always happened in an SRS. You haven't always felt like you have got that support.
‘BEL’: Yes. Like, especially especially now that me and [REDACTED] had a big
MS BENNETT: It's okay, don't worry. Please don't worry about it. They want to hear what you have to say. There is a magic button. Don't worry about that.
‘BEL’: Now the, like up at - stuff memory keeps me of saying something and that's not what I meant, and then I tried to, like, explain to her and then, like, she just wasn't listening so, like, I just like, pretty much, like, she got me that, like, angry because, like, I felt like she wasn't listening so, like I'm, like, in my head. I've got two choices. I've got a hot burning coffee in my head hand, and I could throw it at her, or I could put it down and walk out for a smoke. And I chose to put it down but then she was, like, following me and, like, screaming at me, and I'm, like, don't follow me because, like, I'm seriously just about to punch you in the face and she, just, like, wouldn't like, she didn't like, she just kept following me.
MS BENNETT: Commissioners, those are the questions I was going to ask ‘Bel’ this morning. I don't know if the Commissioners have any questions for her.
CHAIR: ‘Bel’, what we usually do is to ask the Commissioners and there are three Commissioners: One is Commissioner Galbally, and you can see Commissioner Galbally on the screen up there. She is in Melbourne. She just waved to you. And then there's Commissioner Ryan, who is sitting here with me. I am Commissioner Sackville, and I'm the Chair of the Royal Commission. We usually ask well, if there is questions. Are you happy if the Commissioners want to ask you a question? Is that okay with you.
CHAIR: Are you sure?
CHAIR: Alright. Well, then I will ask Commissioner Galbally, whom you can see on the screen, and ask if she has any questions for you. And just take your time in answering. Okay?
CHAIR: First we will have to get Commissioner Galbally to unmute herself, and then she will ask a question. I think you're on mute.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Right. I would just like to thank you very much for coming and, you know, I found it really very valuable and informative. Thank you very much.
CHAIR: Okay. And I will ask Commissioner Ryan, who is just here.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: I don't have any questions for you, ‘Bel’, but I do want to say a very, very, very big thank you to you for coming in and telling us about how you live. It's a very important thing you've done, and I'm very, very grateful you've done it. Thank you very much.
CHAIR: And, ‘Bel’, I am also very grateful to you. When we read your Statement, we were very keen for you to come and talk to us directly so that we could see you and you could see us, and we are very glad that you did that, because we have been able to hear from you the things that are important to you and what you have experienced in your life in recent years. So, we are very, very grateful to you for coming to us. Thank you so much. We do appreciate the big help that you have been to the Royal Commission. So, thank you very much.
MS EASTMAN: Commissioners sorry, ‘Bel’, I'm just going to say something to the Commissioners. So, Commissioners, I'm sorry that we also omitted to invite ‘Bel’'s lawyer to announce her appearance and that she's here. Ms Blok also represented and assisted ‘Jacob’ this morning. So, I don't know whether Ms Blok wants to say anything to you, Commissioners.
CHAIR: If you would like to announce your appearance retrospectively, please do.
MS EASTMAN: So, ‘Bel’ I just thought probably to tell the Commissioners that you had your own lawyer as well, so we will ask Natalie to do that.
MS BLOK: Thank you. Thank you. My name is Blok, initial N, and I appeared for ‘Bel’ and for ‘Jacob’ this morning.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for announcing your appearance and thank you very much for assisting both ‘Jacob’ and ‘Bel’.
MS BLOK: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
MS EASTMAN: And Commissioners you have got ‘Bel’'s written Statement, and ‘Bel’ has got a copy a big sized copy of her Statement there as well. And we also thank [REDACTED] to support ‘Bel’ today. So, ‘Bel’ if it's okay with you, I might ask the Commissioners if they can take a little bit of a break and leave the room, and then you can stay here as long as you like, and then we can let the Commissioners know when we can come back. Is that okay? And a big thank you from the Royal Commission.
CHAIR: Yes. Thank you, ‘Bel’. We will take a short break now.
<THE WITNESS WITHDREW
<ADJOURNED 2:03 PM
<RESUMED 2:12 PM
CHAIR: Yes, Ms Dowsett.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. The next witness and our final witness for today is Dr Colleen Pearce.
CHAIR: Dr Pearce, welcome back to the Royal Commission.
DR PEARCE: Thank you.
CHAIR: For a repeat appearance. Thank you again for assisting the Royal Commission, this time without the benefit of an additional statement, but we have had two Statements from you previously. I understand, though, that you wish to take the affirmation. If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, he will administer the affirmation to you.
<COLLEEN PEARCE, AFFIRMED
CHAIR: Dr Pearce, I'm sure you know where everybody is, but just to reiterate, Commissioner Galbally, whom you can see on screen, is joining the hearing from Melbourne and Commissioner Ryan is on my left. And, of course, Ms Dowsett is in the same room, and I will now ask Ms Dowsett to ask you some questions.
<EXAMINATION BY MS DOWSETT
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Dr Pearce, when you were last before of the Royal Commission in Public hearing 20, you were then coming towards the end of your appointment, but in September 2021 you were reappointed for a third seven-year term as Public Advocate.
DR PEARCE: That's correct
MS DOWSETT: And although, as the Chair noted, you haven't prepared a statement in preparation for giving evidence today, you have read all of the transcripts of this hearing.
DR PEARCE: Yes, that's right.
MS DOWSETT: So, you will be able to answer any questions that, when we get to them, the Commissioners might want to put to you about the other evidence.
DR PEARCE: I will do my best.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you. I would like to pick up by beginning with a point that you referred to us in Public hearing 20, and at that time you described it as an emerging issue relating to private rental accommodation. Now, you gave us an example in Public hearing 20 about a resident who was moved from an SRS to private rental accommodation with a $600,000 NDIS plan that was exhausted within the space of seven months. Do you remember that example?
DR PEARCE: I do.
MS DOWSETT: And, as I understand it, you would like to tell the Royal Commission about how this emerging then emerging problem continues to be an issue.
DR PEARCE: Look, it continues to be a very significant issue, and you've heard evidence already about people disappearing from SRSs. Where did they go and how do we find them? But I want to just give you two examples that have come to my attention in the last few weeks about new forms of emerging accommodation. And the first one is a has 13 rooms. One room is a shed in a backyard with no power or natural light. Two very small rooms, two medium room, one larger room however, this would be considered still small by a standard double bedroom. Only one small bathroom for all 13 rooms. Two toilets. A large separate open plan kitchen. No living or communal areas inside the property. And the charges range from $100 to $350 a week. The second is eight rooms, charging between three hundred
CHAIR: Sorry, if we can just pause there. Are you able to tell us what a person who is paying those amounts actually got for the moneys they were paying per week?
DR PEARCE: Well, this is the problem with these new and emerging models, it's who is responsible and who can ask and find out those kinds of questions. Because it's not an SRS well, it could be an SRS, but at the moment it's operating as an unregulated potentially an unregulated SRS. It's possible and entirely likely that some of the people living in those rooms are NDIS participants, but no one has automatic right of entry to ask the questions who are these people, who are they living with?
The reason I know they are charged between $100 and $350 a week is because State Trustees alerted me to these properties, and they have residents that are living there they are very concerned about them. And but, really, they're there as the administrator, so to pay some bills. They are concerned about what else they might find there. So, the question is, these new and emerging forms of accommodation are sit outside the regulatory system or perhaps could be part of the regulatory system if we knew what they were and who is living here.
CHAIR: So with SRSs, as we have been discussing, or at least hearing evidence about, there is a regulatory system in place.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
CHAIR: And some of the evidence may suggest that that regulatory system hasn't been as effective as it might have been in Victoria. But maybe there's another view about that that we might hear something about later on. But what you're indicating is that it is open to somebody to set up what amounts to a boarding house, in this case with 13 rooms, without being a registered SRS. Once that is done, there is no agency, as I understand what you are saying, who has the power to enter those premises, inspect them and hold them to account if there is some breach of basic standards of cleanliness.
DR PEARCE: My understanding is that the Regulator, in order to establish whether or not it is, in fact, an unregulated SRS would need to can either knock on the door and seek entry, or would need to get a search warrant to enter. So, they could enter the premises to ascertain whether or not it is, in fact should be regulated as an SRS. But these processes take a considerable amount of time. So, once they are able to enter, they would need to then if it is an SRS, unregulated SRS, then they would need to prosecute. So, all of this take as a lot of time.
CHAIR: So but do I understand from what you are saying let us take this 13 room accommodation to which you have referred without specifying where it is. Accommodation of that kind, or the owner thereof, would is that owner obliged to register it as an SRS? Or is it open to the owner to say, "I don't want to have anything to do with SRSs or any registration system. I'm just operating in the private market and if people want to come and live in my boarding house and pay $350 a week, that's a matter for them."
DR PEARCE: Well, I think, under normal circumstances, one would expect people to register to become an SRS but what we are seeing is an explosion of different forms of accommodation and therefore whether they are unaware that they need to register or they are just flouting the rules, I wouldn't know.
CHAIR: That's my question. Are they obliged as a matter of law to register and they are ignoring the law, or are they able to operate legally without registering?
DR PEARCE: I it's a question that the Regulator would be able to give you an accurate answer, but I believe they should be obliged they would be obliged to register.
CHAIR: I understand the normative proposition that they should be, but we will need to ask the Regulator what's the actual position.
DR PEARCE: Yes, I think you would. Yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Could I just ask a question. I'm assuming that there are people with disabilities living in there and we know that for sure?
DR PEARCE: We don't know that for sure. We know that if State Trustee is involved, that means they are an administrator and that means they would have been appointed by VCAT and, therefore, we can assume that at least a number of those people who are residing in these premises are people with disability. Otherwise, you wouldn't have had a an administrator appointed. The other point I would like to make is that, with a regulated SRS, Community Visitors can visit. And Community Visitors, as you have heard in evidence at other hearings, are very diligent about raising issues.
So, there is no Community Visitors. There is no one from outside going into see what's happening. The NDIS, with their Quality and Safeguarding Commission, if there is a person with an on an NDIS plan, they could perhaps have some oversight, but, firstly, they would need to know who live there, and there would need to be a complaint. And without knowing who is living there, what are the circumstances, there is no external people going in, the Regulator doesn't have oversight, so there are all of these new forms of accommodation that we call popping up that are outside of the norms and outside of the current regulative frameworks.
CHAIR: For a resident of a hypothetical facility we are tracking about to obtain services from the entity running the facility, and if that entity is unregistered, either under the State Act or under the NDIS scheme, it would have to be a self managed plan, wouldn't it, for that to happen because if it was an agency managed plan, then the service provider would have to be registered.
DR PEARCE: Yes, that's correct.
CHAIR: What we are finding and it's been a recurring theme in this hearing is that there are so many intersecting arrows in this area between Commonwealth and state, one scheme, another scheme, one system of regulation, another system of regulation. It's very difficult to piece them all together. And it must be very, very difficult for people who aren't accustomed to thinking through how regulatory schemes operate or are meant to be operating.
DR PEARCE: That's exactly right. And I think there is in Victoria, there are a large number of agencies who have some form of responsibility in the disability and mental health space, but the difficulty is there's no one who has sole or oversight, and it's a significant gap in the regulatory system.
CHAIR: Alright. Ms Dowsett, you are on again.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. You did say that there were two examples. I will ask you if you want briefly to share the second example that's come to your attention and just indicate to the Royal Commission how that one came to your attention.
DR PEARCE: Again, State Trustees raised this matter with my office because they were concerned about what was happening in these facilities. The second one is eight rooms, charging between $350 and $500 per week. The property previously had a lounge room. However, this has been turned into two bedrooms. Downstairs has one bathroom servicing all of the eight rooms. One of the rooms is a caravan in the sideway of the house. And State Trustees has one client residing in this property, who lives in the garage which has been split into two rooms.
MS DOWSETT: So State Trustees have bought this to your attention. What can you what can your office do?
DR PEARCE: Very little. Community Visitors can't visit. I don't have own motion powers to go in and have a look at what's happening in these facilities. I know State Trustees has raised that with the Regulator. So is there a regulatory option? I remain very concerned about who is living there, under what circumstances. You know, I could try knocking on their door but if I'm my office is refused entry, then at this point in time, I don't know any of the names of the people living there. I don't know if they have disabilities. I don't know if they are in receipt of NDIS packages. So, there is very little that my office can do in these circumstances.
CHAIR: Where does the State Trustee fit in? You said this has been drawn to your attention by the State Trustee.
DR PEARCE: The State Trustees are the administrator.
CHAIR: Of the estate of a particular person.
DR PEARCE: For one person in the second example, and I think it was perhaps two in the first example.
CHAIR: Yes, and the Trustee is probably troubled by the accommodation.
DR PEARCE: Very troubled.
CHAIR: Why don't they do something about it?
DR PEARCE: They have. They have brought it to my office and they have brought it to the
CHAIR: But you can't do anything about it, you said.
DR PEARCE: But this is a common problem. They have raised it with the Regulator. So everybody gets concerned and tries to raise it with the appropriate body but, in fact, who has the overall responsibility? And just recently, in the last week, I released a report called Line of sight: Refocussing Victoria's adult safeguarding system, and I made a number of recommendations there for dealing with the gaps in the regulatory system. And the cornerstone recommendation is for the Victorian Government to introduce adult safeguarding legislation to establish a new specialist adult safeguarding function to enable an agency to receive and assess reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of at risk adults via a helpline, undertake investigations and make and coordinate referrals to other agencies. So, that's what's needed.
CHAIR: Just let's come back to the Trustee for a moment. I know you're not the Trustee. We are talking about a trustee whose been appointed to safeguard the interests, including the finances, of the relevant person.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
CHAIR: And the Trustee is discharging its/his/her obligations by reporting it to you, but you lack the powers to do very much about it. One might have thought that if that's the situation and I don't know all the facts obviously but one might have thought that the Trustee perhaps should be doing something about a bit more active to ensure that the person for whom they are ultimately responsible, in the sense of looking after their welfare or ascertaining their wishes, that they should be doing something to ensure that the accommodation they are in is actually safe, appropriate, accessible and so on.
DR PEARCE: Look, in fairness to State Trustees, I think they are doing as much as I think they can. They are raising it with me, they are raising it with the Regulator. I have no doubt they have raised it with the Quality and Safeguarding Commission. But they themselves don't have powers to, you know, if a person says, as you've heard, "I want to stay in this facility."
CHAIR: But we don't know what the person said. No.
DR PEARCE: Yes, we don't know what their views are. And under the under which circumstances that they have how are these people finding these places? Why are they being moved?
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. I would like to change topics just a little now and talk about the the overlap or intersection between services provided in an SRS and let's go back to registered SRSs now of the kind we have been hearing about. So, SRS services and NDIS, reasonable and necessary supports. And you've previously your office and the Community Visitors have expressed concern about about the overlap and the lack of transparency. And I wonder if you can explain to the Royal Commission what what lies at the heart of that concern and what it is that your office is hearing about these issues.
DR PEARCE: Well, I wonder if I could just give two examples. Just because I think they support ‘Bel’'s testimony and some of the other testimony that you heard earlier today. And a service provider sorry, an advocacy organisation contacted my office talking about a 34-year-old male with schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder living in an SRS. During the COVID lockdown, he signed a document. He wasn't sure what it was. He didn't have a copy of that. What it ultimately did was change his support coordinator.
He was now and he didn't know how that had occurred. It meant the support worker that he had, that he was very happy with, he no longer had. He found that he being charged $3,000 a month for support services which he told the advocacy organisation he didn't think he was getting. And he said, "I would rather sleep rough than stay in this SRS" and the advocacy organisation had said, "Well, look you know stay there and we will try to find you alternative accommodation." So, this is the choice. You know, homelessness and he said he was very angry about what had happened to him. The second one and these examples are just
MS DOWSETT: Before you move on to the second example, if we could just so the advocacy organisation have raised this with your office. What can you do?
DR PEARCE: Well, they have asked us for advice as to what they could do and you know, we suggested that they they know the details, so that approach the Regulator and take the case to the Quality and Safeguarding Commission.
MS DOWSETT: And so does it does it feel to you like you have become something of the traffic cop, like people come to you and you are directing them to places of people with power and authority?
DR PEARCE: We get multiple phone calls every week around concerns about people with a disability. And whether they are in an SRS or living in the community, we get those and my office doesn't have the power, necessarily, to act on these circumstances. And you heard Wintringham say that sometimes they apply for guardianship, and they talked about nine cases where they applied for guardianship because they felt they had no other alternative. And certainly if I'm the guardian, and there are a range of powers that I would have and I could seek information, more detailed information.
But the question is, is guardianship, which is a limitation on a person's human rights, the most appropriate mechanism for ensuring that people get access to the kinds of services that they need? And I often describe applications for guardianship as being instrumental. So, they are used to ensure a person gets access to the services they need, and it might be simply the signing of NDIS contracts. And if we take a human rights view of the disability landscape and people with disability, then we should not be appointed as guardians for these instrumental reasons. But as Wintringham has said, it's once you get a guardian, perhaps, there is the power of my office to try and assist individuals but we already have a waiting list for people under guardianship for me to delegate my guardianship powers. So, it's very long. But sometimes that's the only alternative.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you. If you could tell us about the second example you wanted?
DR PEARCE: Yes. The second example is a person with mental health issues and has a support worker. And during COVID, it was very difficult to get into SRSs so they rang, the person you know, they couldn't speak to the person over the phone for a variety of reasons. So, then similar to the Hambleton House, they tried to meet the person in the garden, outdoors, and there were problems in doing that. And then the professional support worker is attacked by the SRS provider, saying they are unprofessional.
Then the client is told, "Well, your person isn't reliable. They don't turn up. Perhaps you should use our services, the NDIS services provided by the SRS or associated companies." And particularly over COVID when Victoria experienced long periods of lockdown and people weren't able to enter SRSs, I think that's when we saw a transference of a significant amount of transference from outside providers to services either run by or associated with an SRS because people needed support and there was a business opportunity there.
MS DOWSETT: And does your office have any ability to see when there is an entity, either the SRS itself or a related entity, being the NDIS provider? Is there something you can see that gives you visibility of that?
DR PEARCE: No. You know, there was a period when there was a lot of issues in the west, both with SRSs and the pop-up houses. And, you know, I was doing my office was doing some company searches so we were trying to kind of match, well, who are these people? Where are they going? You know, when they are being moved out of SRSs, are they being moved to associated companies? But I think there's a bit of a labyrinth between, you know, trying to find out this information.
There's a lack of transparency. And if my office has to go to that extent to try and understand it and, frankly, we don't have the time most of the time to do that what about the person? You know, what about the you know, who is in receipt of the services and their agency? What do they know? Is there information available in Easy Read? What is their real choice and role? And it is it is an illusion of choice and control, and it's really they don't have much opportunity to actually really choose who should be providing NDIS supports to them.
MS DOWSETT: There are a range of documents that Community Visitors are allowed to see when they go to and SRS. That's correct?
DR PEARCE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: And that includes the ongoing support plan.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: It doesn't include, if the resident is also an NDIS participant, you are not entitled as a right to see the NDIS plan.
DR PEARCE: That's correct.
MS DOWSETT: If the participant consents, can you see their plan?
DR PEARCE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: Have you ever had opportunity to compare an NDIS plan and an SRS ongoing support plan and the residential agreement to see the overlap in services?
DR PEARCE: Community Visitors do attempt to do that, but I do want to say that Community Visitors, their role remember, they are volunteers, and their role is to be there for the individuals, for the residents, and to monitor and report. And you are talking about a complicated process. They do desperately try to understand and get access to those documents. But it is very difficult for them to do all of that in the space of a visit, particularly when the support plans in SRSs are usually very skimpy.
And you heard some evidence today about what might be in a support plan and that's probably pretty typical. Inadequate support plans. So it is very difficult to see that overlap, but Community Visitors are very concerned and very species and hence, really, the raising of all of these issues is both in their annual reports with the Quality and Safeguarding Commission, with the Regulator over a very long period of time. If you look at the Community Visitors' annual reports, that's what they do. They try to report back to the appropriate body who can take the action.
MS DOWSETT: I want to come back to that, but just finishing on what Community Visitors can do, you were talking, when we spoke in preparation for you giving evidence, about what Community Visitors have reported to you that they have observed about people who are present in SRSs and are identified by the residents as support workers. Can you and what it appears that they are doing while they are present on the premises. Can you talk about that?
DR PEARCE: So there's a range of things that Community Visitors might see. So, for example, SRSs are shouldn't be but are open. So, with the NDIS and more service providers you have a whole range of people wondering in and out of SRSs that say, "We are support workers" but they are not badged, you don't know who they are, where they are from, wandering in and out of the facility. And Community Visitors, because they visit and they know people, they say, "Who is that in the lounge room?"
And they will go, "That's the support worker sitting there on their phone", you know. That's that's that certainly something that's been reported to me. Otherwise, Community Visitors might say, that the person providing the NDIS supports is the same person that is on the roster for the SRS as a a providing care in the SRS. So, it's the same person. So, again, it's the lack of transparency. How do you know when they are providing support services for the SRS and how do you know when they are the NDIS worker?
And, sorry, just one other thing. You asked about what do Community Visitors see. Have they seen a change in the residential agreements? And those residential agreements, again, can be very scant on detail. But one of the things Community Visitors have been reporting and it is about showering is that, in the past, residents might have been assisted to shower, so, say, assistance with showering. And now that is a reminder that you need to shower when previously it might have been actually assisting a person physically wash. And now if you want assistance with showering, it comes out of your NDIS plan.
MS DOWSETT: So this is something you might have heard Commissioner Ryan talking about earlier today, that potential for rebadging, I think was his language.
DR PEARCE: Exactly. Exactly.
MS DOWSETT: Now, you were you spoke about the Community Visitors' annual reports and their the reports that you and your office make to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. If I can perhaps start with the annual report. So, this is a report that you make to the government or that Community Visitors make to the government and then what is supposed to happen from there?
DR PEARCE: So the reports are tabled in Parliament and there is an understanding that government will respond to Community Visitors' annual reports within 12 months or one would expect, given the seriousness of the issues that are raised, but the quite I might not get this right, the 19/20 report, it took 18 months for the government to respond, and the 20/21, it's been about nine months and we expect, because of the election, it might be, you know, 15 months before they actually respond to the Community Visitor annual report. So, you've got this incredible wealth of information and I know that you will have looked at it. And you look over the last three years, what they have been saying about the NDIS and the problems with this lack of transparency, double dipping and potentially, you know, fraudulent behaviour and it takes 18 months to get the last response to the Community Visitors annual report. And the latest one is nine months and, as I said, because of the election, we are anticipating it could take up to 15 months.
MS DOWSETT: When we were talking about the Victorian Government Regulator response, you described that response or you said it could be characterised by the initials BH and AH where they stand for Before Hambleton and After Hambleton. Would you like to explain to the Royal Commission what you mean by that?
DR PEARCE: Well, Community Visitors had been raising issues about Hambleton House and the others, but particularly Hambleton House for a number of years. They had taken photographs, they had shown photographs similar to the ones that you saw. And they had shown them over time to say, you know, this is three months, six months. You know, it's the same. The furniture is deteriorating. And the Regulator kept saying that, no, they are compliant. They are compliant.
And the Community Visitors were being abused by the proprietor and you know, there's a line in the sand, really, when it comes to abusing the Community Visitors in the manner that they were being treated at Hambleton House. It was quite unacceptable. To cut a long story short, you know, we did a report to government about Hambleton House, but it wasn't until COVID struck and they were wandering around leafy Albert Park and the COVID taskforce went in that suddenly Hambleton House was found to be non compliant.
And I don't care what the Regulator or anyone says about it being compliant, we have pictures of people bedbugs bites on their arms. The story of the person who said they were cold. We had a woman who told us she slept in her coat in her bed because she was so cold at night. So, I think the Regulator was I would say before Hambleton House was characterised by an unwillingness to exert its meagre regulatory powers, and now we see, after Hambleton House, a willingness to be more proactive, more assertive, signing a protocol with the Community Visitors. So, there is really a marked difference what happened before and what we see happening now.
My issue is not that they are not acting now, because we are seeing them with the closure of facilities and other action that is being taken. It's the length of time that it takes to take regulatory action even if they are determined to take it, because the cases have to be prepared, they have to go to VCAT, then they have to you know, there may be an appeal. So, it's a very long process eating up a lot of resources and there's a hundred and whatever SRSs. So, all of this takes up a lot of time and resources.
So the regulatory system, in my view, is not agile, it's not nimble, it's very difficult to move quickly. And as the service system is evolving quickly since the advent of NDIS, the regulatory system, or the safeguarding or the oversight system isn't nimble. It can't move quickly, and that's why we say where are these people? Who is responsible? Who can find where these people have gone?
COMMISSIONER RYAN: I'm getting a bit confused here. You are talking about when you talk about the government, you are talking about the Victorian Government?
DR PEARCE: Yes, I am, sorry.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: In your annual report you also report writing to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: In February 2021.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: And that's 18 months ago.
DR PEARCE: Yes, so we wrote to you know, what do Community Visitors do? They report to the Regulator, they raise issues with the Quality and Safeguarding Commission. So, I wrote to the Quality and Safeguarding Commission concerned about seven SRSs, some of which were later closed, but not as a result of that letter. And it took a very long time to get a response from the Commission around what what was what was their approach, and, indeed, it's limited by the information sharing provision. So, I tell these stories, I write to the Commission and there is very limited information that I get back. So, I am never really clear, when I write to the Quality and Safeguarding Commission, exactly what action they are taking.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: One of those things you raised was charging residents on NDIS plan separately for services that they already pay for in their SRS fees such as cleaning and laundry.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: And the provision of psychological support.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: I don't
DR PEARCE: And Community Visitors aren't forensic investigators so they're reporting on things what they see and what they think is happening. They then report that to somebody that they hope will investigate, either the Regulator or the Quality and Safeguarding Commission. So, these are the things they are told when they visit. It's up to the person responsible or the body responsible to check the veracity of that. So, these are what Community Visitors are told and that is what they believe is happening, and they are desperately telling people, you know, in reports to government, in letters that I signed to the Quality and Safeguarding Commission about what they believe is happening.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: To go back to my original question, you have raised it with the Victorian Government.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: And at Commonwealth level at the Quality and Safeguards Commission.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
CHAIR: Have you asked for right of entry powers for your office?
DR PEARCE: On multiple occasions. 2012, the Victorian Law Reform Commission did a review of the Guardianship Act and made recommendations about investigative powers and own motion powers. That wasn't included in the latest Guardianship and Administration Act. The Australian Law Reform Commission in their elder abuse inquiry called for a review of adult safeguards laws, and some states have acted on those New South Wales and South Australia but other governments such as Victoria haven't as yet.
CHAIR: Has the Government or successive governments given particular reasons for the reluctance to grant these powers?
DR PEARCE: No.
CHAIR: I see.
MS DOWSETT: In response to Commissioner Ryan's question you raised the absence of information sharing. So the information comes from your office to picking up the example, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission but you said they are unable to share information back to you. Is it correct to say that the Community Visitors don't form part of the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding framework?
DR PEARCE: Yes, that's correct.
MS DOWSETT: And is that a subject upon which your office has made recommendations?
DR PEARCE: Multiple times. You know, I think there value of the Community Visitors program has been demonstrated time and time and time again. And I cannot understand why it doesn't form part of the quality Quality and Safeguarding Framework, they should be. And that's not for want of trying, and, again, I don't understand why that isn't the case. But I do want to make a point about Community Visitors. There is a very long history of what we call official visitors in older lunacy laws and in visiting institutions, and Community Visitors really arise out of that visiting of institutions. And Community Visitors have adapted to moving from and they were instrumental in the closure of institutions in Victoria and then they then moved to the group home model. So, now you are visiting multiple sites. But under the NDIS, the rollout of the NDIS, there is now we are aware of, I think it is, 250 houses additional houses and we just don't have the resources to visit those houses. We just can't. So, the community the traditional Community Visitor model really, like the safeguarding system, needs to adapt, so how can it visit all of this multiplicity of houses. Already we can't visit houses that we are entitled to visit. And then you have got these unregulated places where we are not entitled to visit.
So our Community Visitors, the model itself needs to adapt. And I know Community Visitors are very worried about the fact that they can't go to houses that they are entitled to visit. So, either there's got to be an expansion of resources or perhaps this rethinking the model like we rethink the safeguarding system as the landscape changes and evolves.
MS DOWSETT: And you made a comment about the focus of the regulatory system and the regulators being on the conduct of proprietors and providers. And you noted that that wasn't a person-centred approach. What would you have if you could change the regulatory focus how would you suggest that be done?
DR PEARCE: Yes. Look, regulation does focus on as you've said the service providers. Community Visitors are there for the individual. And they shouldn't be caught up in changing their role so they do undertake any regulatory work. Their work is there to be there primarily for the person and to listen to them and hear their stories and then to help tell their stories to anyone who would listen.
So I think it has to go regulation has to go hand in hand with a system that allows a focus on the individual. The problem is, of course, if you're not part of the same framework then you don't have to be listened to.
And just as the residents say, "I wasn't listened to, I wasn't heard". Community Visitors who have been telling stories about the appalling conditions of SRSs to the Regulator and to various levels of government feel that they have not been heard. And they feel very frustrated and, again, the word is "angrily" because they do all of this work and they feel what is the point? No one listens to me. So the stories of the people are not being heard, and so the regulatory system does have to have that element of a person centred approach.
And perhaps that isn't necessarily the Regulator, but it has to be part of a system and there has to be a way for the voices of people to be heard. And I think everybody has a right to have a voice and everybody has the right to be heard, and that is what we are not hearing and seeing in the regulatory system currently.
CHAIR: What's the benefit, other than a saving of resources, of having a scheme that is staffed by volunteers? I'm not for a moment disparaging the commitment or skills of volunteers, but is there an advantage other than it saves somebody money to do it this way rather than have a paid team of people with appropriate powers to go in and report to the organisation at which they form part?
DR PEARCE: That's a very good question and I think it goes to the model of Community Visitors and a model of empowerment and inclusion. So, as I said, Community Visitors evolved from the visiting of institutions to group homes. They often live in the area of houses that they visit. They know people over the longer term. They are able to go at different times of the day or on the weekend. And they form friendships and relationships in a way that aren't possible with paid employees. They form part of the social capital, of Victoria, I think. You know, they make an enormous contribution. The model may not work in other states, but it has been because of geographic distances and a lack of volunteering, but Victoria has a very strong and proud tradition of volunteers. And they have formed part of the community of of people who live with disability in various housing options. And the other thing is that just because it's volunteer doesn't mean it's cheap. The recruiting, the training of volunteers and I say that a person who comes and works as I volunteer for us has had substantial training in disability-related, mental health related issues, and when they leave they take that knowledge into the community. They talk about you know, they have a greater understanding of disability. So, it is a very powerful model that is underfunded and volunteers that they just can't do all of this work any longer. It's insufficient. So, there needs to be a modelling as I said it needs we need to look at how do safeguarding frameworks adapt to the new model. And we need to think and rethink how do Community Visitors operate in the new landscape?
CHAIR: There is the cohort of volunteers that do this sort of work matched the diversity of the people to whom they are in a sense acting? In other words, for example, does the cohort of volunteers tend to be much older because they are more retired people? Therefore, perhaps making it a little bit more difficult for them to relate to the younger people. Is that an issue?
DR PEARCE: I don't think so. We would have a certain proportion of people with lived experience of disability who are part of the program or they may be a parent who has a child with a disability. They are not allowed to visit any of the houses associated with their child. So, there is a significant proportion of people who have, in one way or another, lived experience with disability. And to say can older people not relate to the needs of younger people. Well, I don't think that that is true. It would be true for some individuals.
CHAIR: It depends upon whether they are grandchildren or not.
DR PEARCE: Yes. And I think also we do get as some young people join as volunteers because they are students and it's a way of getting experience.
DR PEARCE: And understanding more about where they might potentially want to work.
CHAIR: Is this part of practical training for some courses whether in psychology, social work, similar discipline?
DR PEARCE: Look, we have a range of people who are volunteers and some come with professional backgrounds.
CHAIR: No, I meant, is there a mechanism where the volunteer scheme can be linked with one of the university or tertiary courses that students being trained for work but may involve them in disability support and so forth? So, that they can get some practical experience?
DR PEARCE: Potentially, but we just don't have the resources, you know, to do that. That's a very good suggestion but you know, we frankly we run on the smell of an oily rag and there is so many stories and so many people. We are fighting on, you know, every day on every front. And but we do extensive in-house training for all our volunteers.
CHAIR: Alright. Thank you.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Just one topic I would like to cover with you, Dr Pearce, and it's the issue of viability, and we have heard some evidence about the need of the SRS sector to diversify, to find other revenue streams, and we have talked about the NDIS. So, we can pop that to one side. But are you able to share with the Royal Commission information you have about other revenue streams that some in the SRS sector are seeking to take advantage of?
DR PEARCE: So, I will just go back one step and say that the profile of residents probably hasn't changed very dramatically since the last SRS census. But what has changed is the service landscape. And that's the difference. So, we have seen, since the last SRS census in 2018, the full scheme rollout of the NDIS. So, we have seen a significant increase in the number of people in SRSs who would have NDIS plans. There is increased accessibility of aged-care home packages, and that both means that some people will stay at home and not go to SRSs some older people but it does mean that some people may be able to age in place and places you know, where they have lived for some time.
We have got the emergence of pop-up housing, so whatever these forms of housing are, that are associated with SRS and people are moved out of the SRS into the pop-up housing. And absolutely horrifyingly, we have been told that two SRSs have registered and have had their registration accepted to accept referrals from family violence services. So, you know, that would into that volatile mix that you have heard about, you know, if they accept people escaping situations of family violence and, you know, potentially that may mean women and children in the environment that would be so appalling.
But I heard only last night about another example, where a person providing short-term accommodation and medium-term accommodation is now seeking to be registered as an SRS. So you are seeing the diversification of so short-term accommodation is, STA, is kind of the old respite funding. So you've got people moving in and out potentially moving in and out of a service when you have got other people living there as well long-term residents. Now they have applied registration. I don't know where they have got in that.
So you've seen, in order for these services to be viable, they have had to diversify their business model and to take advantage of the opportunities that arise because of the changing land scape. And Bryan Lipmann said that, you know, where there is a failed system and there is a demand for services, so where there is market failure, then businesses will take advantage of this. And there is certainly a demand for accommodation, and so into that breach steps all of these new kinds of models of accommodation driven for profit.
MS DOWSETT: With the fragmented regulatory circumstance you have just described.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
MS DOWSETT: Those are my questions, Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Dowsett. In accordance with our customary practice, I will ask my colleagues, if I may, if they have any questions to put to you, starting with Commissioner Galbally in Melbourne.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the separation of service provision, say, if you have a package from NDIS from the ownership of the property, which has been much discussed in within a group home context. But would that be a helpful thought for some of these problems with SRSs? That you cannot provide services using an NDIS package if you are providing the property?
DR PEARCE: Look, I think that would be very helpful. But I talked about the sort of the labyrinth of, you know, service providers and what you see is that directors being on directors of multiple services and so so the SRS may not provide the service but an associated company may, in fact, provide those services. So, it becomes very difficult for people to sort out who is the provider and what is that relationship.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Well, that would have to be regulated, and if it was something that was required of group home service providers, it would have to be regulated, wouldn't it?
DR PEARCE: Yes. And, look, I've been not I, my office has been into some of these pop-up accommodation when we have been the Guardian and, you know, we are very concerned. The resident will say very typically, "Yes, I like it here because it's not an SRS. It's like three people. I only share the bathroom with three people. I get the meals that I want." But it's a false choice, you know. It's not really a choice that they are able to make.
They are being offered something that's potentially better than what they have, but then we don't know what's happening to their NDIS package. Who is providing the services? What are they getting? Typically they might say, "Look, I don't know what's in the package. I don't know the quantum of my money but, yes, look, I like it here. It's okay." So it's very difficult to understand and I think you need some forensic accounting to have a look at some of these services to understand where the money is going for the service provision. And whether it's in the house that I mentioned, the SRS where the person said, "I'm being charged $3,000 a month and the service isn't changing." You talk to people in the group home sorry in the pop-up accommodation, and you know, "Do you have 24-hour support?" "I don't know. Yes, there was somebody here." You know, there is no way of knowing exactly what they are getting for their service.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: On another matter, the issue of people wandering in and out of an SRS, we have heard about I think it was in Life Without Barriers with, you know, the problem of people not being able to come in and not getting informal eyes on what's going on, as well as just friends and so not knowing who they are. There's a bit of a tension, isn't there, with that you know that permeability and the regulatory notion. You wouldn't want not to have people coming in and out, would you?
DR PEARCE: Yes, yes. You certainly would want to have visits from support workers, family, friends. The difference is that SRSs really are a form of an institution. So, you have large numbers of people living there, and those that are providing professional supports should have some form of identification that identifies them. You don't need to identify family and friends, but you do need to know who is coming into a facility and what the purpose of them being there is.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: With the issue of Community Visitors, do you see schemes like citizens advocacy where the advocate can be with somebody for 20 years and is, you know, is quite close to them. Like, it doesn't have a sort of interface with regulation, really. Do you see those sort of schemes as part of the continuum of all sorts of people you know, circles of friends, potentially, you know, informal volunteering programs of other kinds? Do you see them all on the same continuum or do you see Community Visitors as having a much more official role and, therefore, separate?
DR PEARCE: Look, I think all of those schemes are very important because they promote inclusion and they promote the valuing of people with a disability, who often talk about being friendless, not having a voice, not being heard. And those kinds of schemes, the citizens advocacy or circles of support build supports around those individuals so they feel they have a community, that they have friends, that they have someone who will listen to them and hear them and advocate for them.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And do you think they play a safeguarding role too in the set of eyes watching things and being able to report? Do you hear from you mentioned an advocate before, who had contacted you?
DR PEARCE: That was a paid advocacy service. No, we don't. My office hears all the horrible stories of abuse, neglect and exploitation, and where you have circles of support or some form of citizens advocacy, generally, those people have the supports to enable them to get the kinds of services and support that they need, and my office is at the other end where we hear the stories of where people people don't get the support that they need.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you.
CHAIR: Commissioner Ryan.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you. Dr Pearce, you have used the term "pop up housing". Perhaps we need a definition of that. Are you only referring to the sort of housing you were outlining at the beginning? Or is there does that have a particular definition in the disability sector?
DR PEARCE: No, and it was a term coined potentially by my office but I'm not sure, and that's because, all of a sudden, out of the SRSs in the wild west, we were seeing new forms pop up. So it had a term that was used in a particular time but what we are seeing is a diversification of the housing market. Often they will describe themselves as private rental, and if they are private rental, when you ask, well, what's the tenancy rights, they kind of describe it, for those of us who might have once lived in a in a share home, as a kind of "we're a share home" and the tenancy rights are extremely limited. That's why you see people moving in and out all of the time and either we see complicated legal tenancy arrangements that I can't understand, or else it's, you know, a few lines on a sheet of paper. So, they they don't have tenancy rights. And they are, in my view, outside of the regulatory system until we find perhaps that they are.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: So what's driving that introduction in the market? Who is funding it? Are people just paying for it out of their own pocket or is it the
CHAIR: $350 a week.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Or is it NDIS?
DR PEARCE: Well, it depends. If they are paying if you have got 350 to $500 a week, then, as I said, it's it's there's a market. There is a demand for housing and, you know, you don't get much change out of your pension, but if you cover the housing cost, to me, what's at risk is your NDIS plan, because the big dollars are in the NDIS plan, not in the accommodation. So, if you provide the accommodation and that you know, more or less covers it but you have access to people's plans and you are the support coordinator and providing the services or are through a complex web of interrelated companies, I mean, that's that's potentially what I think is where the money is.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: So, in all probability, these are somehow or other NDIS providers who have also not only do they fall outside of the regulatory regime required for SRS, they somehow or other are also very difficult to regulate in the way in which the NDIS regulates as well, are they?
DR PEARCE: Well, because we don't know what's happening on the ground. And to get the Quality and Safeguard Commission to act you need a complaint. And think of the people that have spoken here today. How are they going to what are they going to say the complaint is? And how are they going to articulate that and without advocacy or Community Visitors, how are they going to have their voices heard? And that's not a complaint about the Quality and Safeguarding Commission. It is just as I said, this landscape is evolving quickly and how do we how do we develop models?
COMMISSIONER RYAN: If you are an NDIS provider, though, don't you have to accommodate, you know, accord to a certain level of supervision and code of conduct and so on?
DR PEARCE: You do.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: So are these people avoiding that?
DR PEARCE: Well, it would only be speculation because we don't know what's happening in the houses, but if you don't know exactly what's happening, you can only speculate as to what is what is happening. And, you know, people can be moved into houses and then moved again and then moved again. So, it's really hard to keep track of where people are going
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Earlier in your evidence, you described you explained what was meant by pre Hambleton and post Hambleton, but it would be fair to say, I think you said, that the incidence of the COVID pandemic was kind of the trigger for which a significant amount of action got taken which ultimately resulted in the closure of Hambleton House and I think another SRS as well.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Would it be fair to say that you have had a stream of intelligence which would have given you strong reason to have taken strong regulatory action against Hambleton House and, say, Gracemanor long before the COVID pandemic revealed it?
DR PEARCE: Indeed. It's published in my annual reports.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Alright. So, unless there is another COVID pandemic, we may there might be a whole heap of other things.
DR PEARCE: Look, I think the Regulator has shown that he is now willing to act and we are seeing firmer action from the Regulator. And since the closure of Hambleton House, we have seen two other services close. And there's other action that they are taking. So, you know, there is a change definitely a change, and certainly a much more cooperative relationship with my office and the willingness to share information that wasn't there before. And far more respect for the Community Visitors.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Now notwithstanding the fact that the Commission has this morning received evidence that some people appreciate the congregate atmosphere of SRSs, you have said that they really are institutions, and you will be aware of the fact that state governments around the nation over two or three decades have taken action to close institutions. Do you see a problem with, for example, the NDIS continuing to fund basically provide viability for what appear to be institutions?
DR PEARCE: You have heard you have heard evidence from some individuals today who do want to live in congregate care. Those that number would be very small, to find like-minded people who understand their issues. So, is there a place for congregate care? And the largest SRS has 80 people in it. You know, no. But can communities be can you have smaller scale accommodation, but where you have the opportunity to have to form that community.
Because otherwise many people are living alone. And we all have the choice about who we want to live with, and some people do want to live alone, and some people are very, very lonely living in those circumstances and want to live with like minded people, and they may not find that in three to five people. But once we start to get larger scale, then we start to get institutions, and with that comes routine. So, with routine comes all of you will eat your dinner at 5 o'clock tonight. The lights will go out. The doors will close.
So, you start to get institutionalised behaviour and, more importantly, you get staffing that is institutionalised. And I honestly wonder with the Regulator you saw the Hambleton House photos how could you go in there and not see what Community Visitors saw unless you had some form of institutionalised thinking, that you would think that that is okay or that that is compliant. So, you get institutionalised thinking that has a detrimental effect on the individual and goes against their ability to make choices, real choices, and to control their circumstances.
So, you've got to weigh that up, the institutions, against a desire for some people to live in larger settings where they can share their experiences.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: How do we mitigate, then, between those two competing requirements of people wanting the fellowship of a congregate setting and ensuring that it doesn't become a segregated institutionalised environment in which people who probably some people who can't speak up for themselves become trapped?
DR PEARCE: Look, I think Wintringham provides some really interesting examples of that in the work they do with in aged-care settings. And, you know, I will just give you an example. I have been doing some advocacy for a person in Geelong. They live by themselves, they are terribly lonely, afraid to go out and wander the street because they are scared of dogs.
We have talked about them going to a Wintringham facility where they there are a number of houses you live on your own but a number of them are clustered together and there's a communal space where there is you have your own lounge room, but where there is arts and crafts, there is support, there is a range of things that occur there. So they live in a setting, and he is so desperate to get there because he says it's just the kind of place he's a drinker, you know, has been and there's people who have had that kind of experience that understand his circumstances. So, I think Wintringham does give us some examples of where they have been able to achieve that.
Is that the kind of thing that we would want to see on large scale? Absolutely not. And Wintringham has very rigorous adheres to very rigorous accreditation standards. So, the number of people that would want that would be very, very small. We are talking about a small number of people. And the more we give people choice and control, and we support them to make their own decisions, they may choose not to be in congregate care settings but may be willing and want to go elsewhere but they don't know what the opportunities are.
CHAIR: But equally they may choose to go to congregated settings, if that is an genuine exercise of choice and control, accepting this is an area where many phrases are used, but they are prepared to accept the dignity of risk associated with that. Your point is, that it may be very small, but there are some people who might be suited to that and might exercise their choice.
DR PEARCE: And if it was small scale. You know, nothing like these large facilities. So
CHAIR: And if it was properly run and regulated and all the rest of it.
DR PEARCE: And so I'm a bit torn, because, yes, I agree with you. I'm very concerned about a model being exploited where we go against everything we have been fighting for small scale living. Not many of us would want to live in a house with six others.
CHAIR: There are actually quite difficult dilemmas here.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
CHAIR: Which your examples are exposing, I think.
DR PEARCE: Yes.
CHAIR: Can I ask just a specific question. A a registered SRS, can that same entity be a registered NDIS provider?
DR PEARCE: My understanding is yes, but the Quality and Safeguarding Commission perhaps could answer that correctly.
CHAIR: So you don't know whether the same criteria apply or whether each organisation shares information to enable uniform decisions to be made?
DR PEARCE: No, I don't know the extent to which they share that information.
CHAIR: Alright. Thank you very much.
SPEAKER: Chair, could I interrupt for one moment?
SPEAKER: Just to make sure, there was a question asked by Commissioner Ryan of the witness. Commissioner Ryan, you asked a question, do you see problem with, for example, the NDIS continuing to fund basically provide viability for what appears to be institutions. I just wanted to flag, Commissioner Ryan, that the NDIS doesn't fund the institution; the NDIS funds providers. And it doesn't fund accommodation; it funds support around a registered participant.
CHAIR: Well, it doesn't necessarily fund providers either. It funds participants who may fund providers.
SPEAKER: Thank you. Thank you very much, that's right. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you for pointing that out.
DR PEARCE: And could I please just make one other comment, just around going back to that difficult issue about, you know, congregate care and say that SRSs are really last resort and they have not been able to provide or the the environment for NDIS participants to take full advantage of what the NDIS would offer. So, when we are talking about congregate care, I'm talking about something that is not an SRS, which is, you know
CHAIR: No, I think we have understood that very clearly.
DR PEARCE: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you.
MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Pearce, again for coming to the Royal Commission. Once again, your evidence is very helpful and thought provoking, and we appreciate your contributions to the Royal Commission. So, thank you very much.
DR PEARCE: Thank you.
MS DOWSETT: That concludes the evidence for today, Chair. We propose that we adjourn now and resume at 9.30 tomorrow morning.
CHAIR: 9.30 tomorrow.
MS DOWSETT: Yes.
CHAIR: Very well. 9.30 tomorrow. We will adjourn until then.
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