Human Rights Review Tribunal,  NZHRRT 26 (14 December 2010)
In December 2010 the Human Rights Review Tribunal awarded $100,000 in damages against former community health coordinator, Ms Parehe Nikau, for financially exploiting a client. The case was brought by the Director of Proceedings under the Health and Disability Commissioner Act alleging breaches of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights.
The claim established that Ms Nikau had accepted money and gifts totalling over $50,000 from her client (who has name suppression to protect her privacy). The Director also successfully claimed $30,000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings, $20,000 for flagrant disregard of the client's rights, and $7,500 costs. The Tribunal made an order that Ms Nikau return two items of personal significance to her client.
The fact that Ms Nikau was receiving very significant gifts from her client - a woman with a long history of mental health issues - first came to the attention of Ms Nikau's employer and was investigated by the Police. The Police did not consider there was enough evidence to support a criminal prosecution. The matter was investigated by HDC and Ms Nikau subsequently admitted accepting gifts and money from her client while working as her social worker between July 2008 and January 2009. Ms Nikau acknowledged that her acceptance of the items and money in this case was wrong. She understood that accepting gifts from a client was normally unacceptable and unethical. She did not defend the claim before the Tribunal.
HDC was told by Ms Nikau's client that Ms Nikau had known what was in her bank account. She said that when Ms Nikau asked her for money, she felt that she was in an awkward position, because she would feel mean to turn Ms Nikau down after all she was doing for her.
The gifts given to Ms Nikau included cash, jewellery, shoes, underwear and pyjamas. Ms Nikau also used her client's eftpos card at several shops detailed in the Tribunal's decision.
Another social worker gave evidence of the effects these events have had on Ms Nikau's former client: increased use of acute respite services, more frequent medical reviews and a need for increased support and monitoring. The Tribunal heard that the client had put her complete trust in Ms Nikau and now felt insecure to such an extent that she had changed the locks on her doors.
The exploitation happened at a time when the client was struggling to cope after her father's death and was very unwell. Now she feels she has failed her father by losing his hard-earned money, the inheritance he had left her.
The Tribunal heard that the woman is now financially compromised, and relies on government benefits.
The Tribunal's full decision is available at http://www.nzlii.org/nz/cases/NZHRRT/2010/26.html
Last reviewed February 2019