Financial Abuse and the Care Act 2014 – Does Anyone Care?
On 14th May 2014 the Care Act received royal assent. The Act is designed to reform the law relating to care and support for adults (and the law relating to support for carers). It also makes provision for safeguarding adults from abuse or neglect. But does the Act go far enough to protect those at risk of abuse and in particular financial abuse?
Financial abuse can be described as “types of mistreatment where someone forcibly controls another person’s money and/or financial assets”. It is the second most prevalent type of mistreatment after neglect. Older people, particularly those with dementia, are at greatest risk of financial abuse.
In 2011 an enquiry into mistreatment of elderly people revealed that there were almost one in four cases of abuse reported (around 23,000.00) were of financial abuse. It is likely that that figure is actually much higher as many cases are unreported. The charity Action on Elder Abuse is deeply concerned about the extent of abuse and neglect uncovered in hospitals and care homes recently and considers that current systems and law have been insufficient to deter abuse and that too often those few perpetrators who reach the courts receive sentences that the public consider too lenient. They are seeking a new criminal charge of elder/adult abuse to cover circumstances where an adult uses their relationship or position to cause or allow an older person or dependent adult to suffer unnecessary physical pain, mental suffering, injures their health, or steals, defrauds or embezzles their money or property.
The charity is concerned that the adult safeguarding clauses in the Act are insufficient to ensure the protection of people who are subject to abuse.
One of the difficulties of financial abuse in particular is that in many cases the abuse is carried out by a son or a daughter who take the view that they are simply getting their inheritance in advance, or attorneys appointed under a power of attorney – the very person appointed to a position of trust. The temptation to take money and to say “well it’s what they would have wanted me to have” for example alongside an ignorance of what the legal duties and responsibilities of an attorney are, can lead to gross abuses of trust.
Sarah Young, Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors says: “It can be difficult to spot the signs of financial abuse – or if wrong doing is suspected, to prove it. In many cases the facts do not become apparent until after the victim’s death; I often get enquiries about this and, depending on the amounts, it is possible to do something about it”.
Awareness of the potential signs of financial abuse can help to limit or prevent this unpleasant crime:
• Signatures that do not resemble the older person’s normal handwriting – or a signature when the person is too unwell to be able to write.
• Sudden changes in bank accounts or unexplained large withdrawals.
• The sudden and unexplained transfer of assets to someone else.
• Deliberate isolation of an older person from friends and family, resulting in the care giver alone having total control.
• Change of ownership of a property.
• The purchase of items that the person does not require.
• Numerous unpaid bills or overdue rent when someone else is supposed to be paying the bills – or apparent lack of amenities that the older person should be able to afford.
Sarah Young adds “The law relating to social care has largely remained unchanged for 40 years and the new Care Act will repeal many pieces of outdated legislation and bring social care law into one single modern piece of law. Whether it will effectively safeguard vulnerable adults from financial abuse remains to be seen”.
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley and Hall solicitors. She specialises in will disputes. Sarah has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.
For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley and Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.