How we helped a recovering woman keep her home

How we helped a recovering woman keep her home

It is difficult to hold onto the routines and belongings that scaffold your life when your mental health is deteriorating. When treatment is imposed and administrators are involved it can exacerbate the feeling of losing control. But those appointed to make decisions for others have a legal obligation to act in the clients’ best interests and there are ways to ensure this happens.

Susie* was in community care when administrators asked the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for approval to sell her house to cover the predicted cost of managing her affairs. Find out how we helped Susie keep her home.

Susie’s story

Susie was in community care when State Trustees were considering how to deal with the rubbish that was overwhelming her home in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.

Susie* sitting amongst books and papers

She had had a rough time of it; her business had failed, her husband had left her, her hoarding had escalated, schizophrenia was taking its toll and she had been detained involuntarily in psychiatric care.

Things began to look up when the residential community care unit she was moved into waived her costs to allow her to stay longer than usual for treatment. She knew that, despite some outstanding debt, she had $15,000 in the bank and she would be okay.

How things took a turn for the worst

The administrators sought a quote for a cleanup at Susie’s home. Without attending the site because of health and safety concerns, contractors estimated it would cost around $11,000.

The administrators were concerned that if Susie continued hoarding when she returned home there would not be enough money for further cleanups. They asked the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for approval to sell her house, with the hearing adjourned to allow for further quotes.

What we did to help

Susie, whose husband had returned, came to us, frightened of being unable to return home just as she was getting her life together.

’She was frazzled by the whole process,’ Mental Health and Disability Advocacy Program lawyer Greg Buchhorn said. ’She was a really nice lady who’d been quite unwell but she’d recovered enough to go home and it was just a matter of cleaning up her house.’

Greg presented a case to the parties before the hearing to show that Susie’s treatment had addressed the issues underlying her hoarding and that she had the continuing support of a local mental health service.

He noted that the administrators were obliged to consider Susie’s wishes and explore less restrictive measures, with a separate submission linked to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

At the hearing, Susie’s treating team volunteered to assist and, in dismissing the case, the tribunal ordered the trustees to work with the volunteers on the cleanup to facilitate a speedier return for Susie to her home.

How we can help

If you have to go to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an administration or guardianship order hearing, or already have an order, you can get legal help to work out your options.

Call us on 1300 792 387, Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm, for free information about the law and how we can help you. 

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