Man fights 'for principle'
It's just $15,000.
And she was a demented alcoholic who lived in squalor.
But ex-lawyer Dennis Gates says it's all about the principle.
The former Whangaparaoa man, now living in Christchurch, is this month taking action against the Ministry of Social Development to try to force it to repay rest home fees to the estate of Whangaparaoa woman Wynne Davis.
Mrs Davis, 86, died in May 2010 after spending nine months in a rest home where she had to pay for her care, which came to $22,675.
The ministry refused her application for a rest home subsidy because she owned a house which had a listed rateable value above the government threshold.
But Mr Gates says the ministry overvalued the home and claims the residential care subsidy application it received from Mrs Davis was inaccurate because she was demented and did not have the ability to sign it.
A long-time friend of Mrs Davis, who was the beneficiary of her estate, filled out the form without having enduring power of attorney or authorisation from the courts to act on her behalf.
Mr Gates says the form is therefore invalid and should never have been accepted by the ministry. He says the situation created a "serious injustice" and believes the ministry should pay back the $22,675 to Mrs Davis' estate.
"I have challenged injustices like this all throughout my career. I have stood up for the little guy because someone has to look after the weakest and most vulnerable people in society," he says.
The ministry will not comment on the case "as the matter is before the courts", a spokeswoman says.
Ministry policy says a person with a close relationship to an incapacitated client can be awarded temporary appointment to act for them.
Enduring power of attorney or a court order is needed if the client is likely to need ongoing help, the spokesperson says.
Mr Gates says the ministry also erred when it ruled Mrs Davis' Whangaparaoa home was worth its listed rateable value of $300,000.
He says it should have visited the home which was derelict and littered with rotten food, rat droppings and dirty incontinence products.
The fences were also broken and the property was completely unmaintained, he says.
The house sold on the open market for $150,000 just before its owner's death - well below the ministry residential care subsidy threshold of $215,132.
Mr Gates has taken his claims to a ministry internal appeal hearing, the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission, who all rejected them and ruled the original application was valid.
He is now taking the matter to the Christchurch District Court disputes tribunal.
The tribunal can only hear claims of up to $15,000 and Mr Gates has therefore had to cut short what he believes Mrs Davis' estate is rightfully entitled to.
He is not charging legal fees for the case and stands to gain nothing if he wins.
"This is an injustice.
"It's not about the money; it's about the principle," he says.
Mr Gates spent 33 years working as a lawyer in New Zealand, the majority from his Whangaparaoa practice.
He quit law and moved to Canterbury in 2012 to try his hand at real estate after his wife was offered a job in the region.
The tribunal hearing is scheduled for February 18.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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