elder abuse in community

One of the most disturbing trends in our community, and communities right around Australia, is that of elder financial abuse. In other words, the exploitation of the elderly by, most commonly, people that are in a decision-making capacity for that older person.

The Queensland Government, in September last year, introduced a myriad of laws applying tougher sanctions for guardians, administrators, or those holding a power of attorney who are not doing the right thing, and now the Federal Government is developing a national plan to address elder abuse. In this podcast, Leanne Matthewson explains this worrying trend.

Leanne:

There’s a growing amount of attention, which is really pleasing to see, because for a long time this has been something that’s been going on and not talked about.

 

But part of the announcement by the Commonwealth Government is in fact funding for a study to actually work out and get a better picture of what is happening in our community and how prevalent is elder abuse?

 

Dan:

And it’s against the most vulnerable in our community, isn’t it? I mean, people that are frail that often lack decision-making abilities, and they’re being preyed upon.

 

Leanne:

That’s right. It’s an insidious thing when you think about it that the elders of our society, who have contributed so much, are being taken advantage of in a range of different ways and that they’re really not being respected in the way that they should, and that they are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

 

It’s interesting. I mean, we hear a lot on the news about cost of living pressures and the lack of affordable housing, and in fact it seems like these two factors are actually having a big role to play in the increase in elder abuse, because we have this situation where adults feel that they are under financial pressure, and they see that their parents or their aunts or their uncles, who are ageing, have financial resources and think that they might just, in some way, be able to, in effect, help themselves to their inheritance a little earlier so as to help their own cost of living pressures.

 

Dan:

Leanne, does it, at a practical level, often manifest with people that are in roles of a decision-making capacity for that older person?

 

Leanne:

Yes, it can. The clear example is someone who is acting as an attorney for that older person can abuse that role, and I guess it’s just more easy for that person to do things like accessing a bank account, selling property and helping themselves to the older person’s financial resources.

 

But it’s not limited to attorneys doing the wrong thing. Financial abuse can be as simple as a younger person moving in with an older person and not helping to pay for the expenses. It can be borrowing money off an older person and then refusing to pay the money back. At worst it can be, of course, taking that older person to a solicitor and making them sign a new will, or making the older person themselves sign a contract or a transfer to transfer property to the other person without the older person really understanding what they’re doing.

 

So it’s not limited to attorneys, but it does usually involve family members, which is a fairly sad indictment on our community, I think.

 

Dan:

And what does a person do if they become aware of potentially this type of behaviour occurring? Given that you’ve just given me a whole range of examples, I’m assuming there isn’t one location, for example, that somebody could go to, or some sort of intervention that could singularly apply to all those settings or all those situations.

 

Leanne:

That’s exactly right, Dan. That is clearly part of the problem, and that is part of the plan in terms of getting a national response and a national watchdog, if you like, so that there is one person or authority that people can take their concerns or their complaints to. Because at the moment, in some cases, if it involves stealing, the police might be involved. In other cases, if it involves abuse of a power of attorney, QCAT or the Guardianship Tribunal might be involved.

 

At the moment, it’s a real hotchpotch of potential solutions and it’s very difficult for a whistleblower to actually know where they should turn to in terms of shedding some light on the problem.

 

Dan:

So if, for example, it was the exploitation or abuse was happening by a person that is in one of those decision-making capacities, where do they go? Do they lodge an application to QCAT or do they make contact with a law firm? How do they initially wrestle with this?

 

Leanne:

Well, I would suggest that if someone has a concern, if they make contact with their local solicitor or a solicitor, that’s a great first step because being a legal professional, we can then point them in the right direction.

 

But there is, in Queensland, a government body called the Office of the Public Guardian. They investigate complaints of situations where attorneys are doing the wrong thing or, in fact, where attorneys aren’t doing anything, because that can be the wrong thing. If an attorney isn’t fulfilling his or her responsibilities and neglecting that adult, again, a complaint can be made to the Office of the Public Guardian.

 

Dan:

Look, there’s so much that you can talk about in relation to this matter, isn’t there? It’s just so complex.

 

Leanne:

It really is, and we’ve just focused on financial abuse today, but there of course is a growing amount of physical abuse and, very sadly, psychological or emotional abuse which can happen, again, in a family setting, then can actually also happen in the age care industry, in the age care environment. So there’s a lot of work to be done across a lot of different sectors to improve the situation.

 

But the first thing I really think is raising people’s awareness of the problem and then providing some support and education so that people know what the warning signs are to look out for.

 

Dan:

Leanne, thanks for joining me.

 

Leanne:

Thank, Dan.

 

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