Lifestyle Solutions: Disability service provider being monitored in NSW amid management concerns

A unidentified person in a wheelchair.

The New South Wales Ombudsman’s office says it is keeping a close eye on national disability service provider Lifestyle Solutions.

Key points:

  • A senior supervisor with Lifestyle Solutions in NSW was convicted of fraud in 2015
  • The disability service provider is accused of having poor oversight
  • NSW Ombudsman’s office advised by Lifestyle Solutions it has developed an “action plan”

It comes after the ABC revealed the Victorian Government had cancelled its contracts with the organisation over concerns about its management of abuse claims and “shortcomings” in oversight.

The latest example of concerns of mismanagement come from court documents that show how a senior supervisor with Lifestyle Solutions on the NSW north coast stole a truckload of goods worth nearly $25,000 belonging to its clients.

The 63-year-old man was convicted of fraud in Tweed Heads Local Court in 2015 after pleading guilty.

He was given a two-year good behaviour bond.

Documents tendered to the court, obtained by the ABC, show that during 2013 the former supervisor would approve the purchase of items for people with a disability in Lifestyle’s north coast homes but keep the items for himself.

When he became aware the company was investigating, the supervisor had to hire a truck to collect the goods from his house and to return them to its office.

The court documents indicate the truck inventory totalled $24,979 and included a fridge, washing machine, clothes dryer, beds, black guitar, TV and iPad.

Tweed Heads resident Gina Swannell has worked in disability support and said she was the one who alerted Lifestyle Solutions to details of the theft.

Gina SwannellPHOTO: Gina Swannell believes there was poor oversight at Lifestyle Solutions. (ABC News: Scott Kyle)

“These were people that were entrusted with the wellbeing of these vulnerable people with disabilities,” she said.

Ms Swannell said the theft occurred over the course of more than six months and she believed it was because of poor oversight at Lifestyle Solutions.

“Management signed off on some of these things … but they obviously hadn’t read them or processed them,” she said.

The man was responsible for managing the finances of about 40 people with a disability, with funding ranging from $15,000 to $60,000 a year.

In a police statement tendered to the court, investigating officers stated:

“[The accused] systematically split payments into smaller transactions in order to avoid detection, keeping certain items for himself and rewarding family members of disabled people with gifts.

“It is the opinion of police that the accused lost sight of the fundamentals of his role in the organisation and has gradually progressed from convenient manipulation of funding accounts … into all-out fraud for his own benefit.”

Court documents indicate the man was sacked at the time.

‘There were emails circulating … that basically it was a free for all’

The Tweed Heads matter was not the only case where Lifestyle Solutions’ clients were the victims of financial crime or mismanagement.

In 2012, Newcastle employee Kim Craig was convicted of stealing $11,000 from clients with a disability living in the organisation’s group homes.

The ABC also has obtained an email suggesting that in 2015, when a Newcastle group home was being closed down, some household items that were purchased with clients’ personal funds were given away to other Lifestyle residences, instead of remaining with clients moving elsewhere.

A carer from the organisation, who did not want to be identified, told the ABC they believed it equated to theft.

“There were emails circulating throughout the organisation, with senior managers CC’d into these emails, that basically it was a free-for-all — all of this furniture from this house needs to be gone by the end of the week,” the carer said.

“Absolutely I had concerns about the finances because the people we were supporting weren’t getting the quality of care that they deserved or were funded for.”

Furniture giveaway was subject to internal review: chief executive

In a statement Lifestyle Solutions chief executive Andrew Hyland said there was no wrongdoing but admitted the furniture giveaway was subject to internal review and “appropriate action”.

“Residents … were consulted regarding the move and nominated several items that, due to being aged or no longer appropriate for their situation, they did not wish to take,” he said.

Mr Hyland said they had introduced “personal inventories” for all residents.

Lifestyle Solutions is a Newcastle-based organisation that turned over more than $124 million last year, largely from taxpayer funds.

The company said it did refer the Tweed Heads matter to police.

Mr Hyland said it had “regular financial reviews with agencies to ensure client outcomes are achieved and government funding is allocated correctly”.

“We operate in accordance with contractual requirements of government funding departments in each state and territory in which we provide services,” he said.

Mr Hyland said the systems included compliance with strict procurement and acquittal rules that were attached to the securing of government funding.

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Arrangements in place for close tracking: Deputy NSW Ombudsman

The office of the NSW Ombudsman said it was continuing to monitor Lifestyle Solutions.

Deputy NSW Ombudsman Steve KinmondPHOTO: Deputy NSW Ombudsman Steve Kinmond said an external consultant was reviewing reforms at Lifestyle Solutions. (Four Corners)

It comes after the ABC’s Four Corners program revealed in March the office had identified practice failures relating to the deaths of four clients in the service provider’s care.

In a statement, Deputy NSW Ombudsman Steve Kinmond said the organisation had advised it had developed an “action plan” that included better prevention and response to serious incidents.

It had also engaged an external consultant to review its reforms.

“Arrangements are in place for close tracking and reporting back on progress against the action plan, including regular meetings with the Ombudsman’s office and the Department of Family and Community Services,” Mr Kinmond said.

“As all parties agree, it is ultimately the outcomes for clients that will be the critical test of the reform process.”