Ex-lawyer won't give up on fight for woman

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014
Former lawyer Dennis Gates
ESTATE BATTLE: Former lawyer Dennis Gates is taking the Ministry of Social Development to court in a dispute over funds from a demented beneficiary’s estate.

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Dennis Gates spent his life as a barrister "sticking up for the little guy".

And 18 months after walking away from the law he says there is one case he just can not drop.

That is the case of Wynn Davis - a demented beneficiary and former alcoholic who lived in squalor. This month , Christchurch-based Gates is taking the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to court over a "serious injustice" and money he considers was improperly obtained from beneficiary Davis' estate.

He claims the ministry illegally accepted a rest home subsidy application from Davis, even though she did not have the ability to sign it and it was filled out by the beneficiary of her estate, who had no legal standing.

The form said her derelict Whangaparaoa home, which had rats living inside, broken fences and an out of control garden was still worth its $300,000 rateable value. This pushed Davis over the threshold for Government funding for a rest home subsidy.

After her death, her home sold for $150,000 on the open market and ever since Gates has been fighting with the Government to get the $22,758 she paid for rest home care returned to her estate.

His battle has taken him from an MSD internal appeal hearing to the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission, who all believe the application was valid.

His last resort is the Christchurch District Court disputes tribunal.

The tribunal can only hear claims of up to $15,000 and Gates has had to cut short what he believes Davis 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 said.

"Rather than admitting a mistake, MSD is willing to spend more than what's at issue to try and justify their incompetence." 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.

But he has not been able to let go of Davis' case.

"The system failed her, it is as simple as that and someone should hold them to account." The tribunal hearing is scheduled for February 18.

MSD would not comment on the case "as this matter is before the courts", a spokeswoman said.

MSD policy states that if a client is incapacitated, a person with a close relationship to them can be awarded temporary appointment of agency to meet the client's immediate needs.

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If the client was likely to need on-going agency, enduring power of attorney or a court order was needed, she said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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