In our daily lives, most of us are able to make decisions for ourselves – where we live, what support services we may need, how we spend our money.
But not everyone is in a position to make choices for themselves. People living with disability have these rights taken away if their condition is deemed to reduce their capacity to make their own decisions.
Julia* is a 45-year-old Brisbane woman who lives with schizophrenia. In 2013, she experienced a psychotic episode as a result of her illness. Psychosis is characterised by confused thinking, delusions (false beliefs not shared by others), and hallucinations (hearing, seeing, smelling or tasting something that isn’t there).
As a consequence of this episode, Julia was placed in a mental health ward at Toowoomba Hospital, where she was referred to Queensland’s guardianship system. Under these laws, a guardian was given the legal authority to make decisions on Julia’s behalf, as there were concerns she may not have the skills to manage this on her own.
As part of this arrangement, her guardian was allocated control over Julia’s finances. This meant she no longer had unrestricted access to her pension funds or bank cards as these were managed by her guardian. Not only was this inconvenient and very disempowering, but it also incurred an ongoing account management fee and as a result, Julia worried about being unable to save money.
In January this year, Julia’s NDIS support coordinator referred her to Ability Action Australia and our senior occupational therapist, Rachel Ownsworth.
Rachel’s task was to increase her independence with money management and budgeting, so that Julia could demonstrate to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal that she had the skills needed to control her own finances.
The tribunal appoints people as guardians or administrators for adults with impaired capacity and makes formal declarations or findings about an adult’s capacity.
After five sessions together, Rachel could see the progress Julia was making in understanding her finances and how to manage them.
“We did multiple therapy sessions together, working on money handling skills, finances and budgeting,” Rachel says.
Afterwards she wrote a letter of support to the tribunal, advocating for Julia to have independent access to her pension.
Thanks to Julia’s determination and Rachel’s support, the tribunal no longer had concerns about her ability to be financially independent, and granted Julia full control over her money after eight long years.
“Thank you so much for the letter you wrote for me as support for QCAT. The member really respected it and I can now have my whole pension money. Ever so much thanks,” Julia wrote to Rachel in an email.
Rachel says her participant has gone from having minimal control over her finances and independence with basic financial transactions to regaining full power over her pension income.
“She’s now able to save as much as she wants, and this significantly increases her independence with her finances – which is a huge part of an individual’s life,” Rachel says.
With the support of Ability Action Australia, Julia now has the skills and confidence to manage her finances, plan for the future, and take charge of her life, something she never had the opportunity to do before.
*Name changed to protect privacy