A trustee company was handling the administration of Taua’s parents’ estates. Taua had a wide range of complaints about the trustee company’s behaviour and its treatment of her parents’ assets. For example, Taua said that her brother had received more than his fair share of the property, and she was very unhappy with the decisions the trustee company had made about her parents’ investments.
Taua hired a lawyer to make a complaint to the trustee company, and when the complaint did not make any progress, she had her lawyer prepare a complaint to FSCL. The complaint was long and complex, and included a large number of supporting documents. By the time the complaint was sent to FSCL, Taua had already paid $30,000 in legal fees.
When we first started investigating Taua’s complaint, we told her lawyer that we could speak directly with Taua, to try and keep her legal costs down. Despite our advice, Taua decided she would continue to have her lawyer manage her complaint. By the time
FSCL’s investigation was over, Taua had paid over $60,000 in legal fees.
We found that the trustee company had, for the most part, acted appropriately. However, we upheld a few elements of Taua’s complaint. We found the trustee company had made a few unreasonable decisions while dealing with the estates, and the decisions had caused Taua some significant stress and inconvenience.
We thought the trustee company should take some responsibility for Taua’s legal fees. We accepted it was reasonable for Taua to talk to a lawyer before making her complaint to FSCL, as the complaint was complex, and involved a number of technical legal matters. Also, a number of Taua’s complaints needed to be addressed immediately, so it was reasonable for Taua to have her lawyer talk directly to the trustee company before she made her complaint to us. However, we did not think it was reasonable to have the trustee company pay for all Taua’s legal costs, as most of her legal advice was unnecessary – Taua could have let us investigate her complaint, without having to pay her lawyer any more fees.
We recommended the trustee company pay Taua $8,714.31. This payment was made up of:
- $6,000 as a fair contribution towards Taua’s legal costs
- $2,000 compensation for stress and inconvenience which the trustee company had caused Taua, and
- $714.31 as a refund for fees which we found the trustee company should not have charged.
Taua did not accept our recommendation, and decided to take her complaint to the High Court.
Key insights for consumers
Our process is designed to be free for consumers; we can talk directly to you about your complaint, without involving lawyers. We will only award compensation for legal costs in exceptional circumstances, so you should think carefully before deciding to hire a lawyer to manage your complaint. It may be best to talk to us first and find out what we can do to help keep your costs down.