World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15) shines a spotlight on increasing financial abuse. Local elder law expert calls on Governments to take faster action to prevent it
A local expert in elder law and advocate for those experiencing elder abuse says World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD, June 15) is a timely reminder of the prevalence of the issue, that more needs to be done to stop it and that everyone has a role in preventing it.
The principal of Catherine Henry Lawyers, Catherine Henry, has joined a chorus of groups asking for governments to take more urgent action on the issue of elder abuse and in particular the introduction of an online register of enduring powers of attorney, standardised power of attorney legislation across the country and a dedicated body to crack down on financial abuse of the elderly.
It is a year since the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released the final report following its national enquiry into elder abuse. The ALRC made 43 recommendations and urged the Federal Government to seize a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to stop the financial and physical abuse of the elderly. In February, the Federal Government announced it would progress a national plan for elder abuse and in the May budget committed $22 million over five years to standardise powers of attorney.
Ms Henry said a plan is important but progress is too slow. She said an organisation to whom bank staff, health professionals and other people could report suspected abuse would be helpful. A national register of enduring powers of attorney – a common vehicle for elder abuse – would also help staff in banks, law firms and other organisations to check their validity.
The World Health Organisation defines elder abuse as ‘a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person’. Ms Henry said elder abuse can be physical or emotional abuse but there is an increasing incidence of financial abuse. It is estimated that at least five per cent of older people experience financial abuse although there is much under-reporting.
“With more than 113,000 people in the Hunter aged 65 years and above (2016 Census) that is potentially more than 5,600 older Australians being taken advantage of, often by family members or carers,” Ms Henry said.
She said her firm has helped seek justice in a number of cases of elder abuse. Common scenarios include older people gifting their home or money in exchange for promises of accommodation or care that doesn’t eventuate; attorneys misusing their powers under an enduring power of attorney; an older person who has lost capacity suffering as they are caught in a family dispute over who should make decisions for them; and a third party ingratiating themselves into the life of an older person for financial gain.
“We are sadly seeing more cases of “inheritance impatience” from children with large debts and mortgages looking to access their parents’ money illegally.”
“As a community we should use WEAAD to look at what we can do to prevent abuse of older people and ensure that we help an older person to report it if we suspect it is occurring.”
“There are steps older people can take to protect themselves too.”