The Shocking Face of Financial Abuse – a Hidden Problem Across the UK
The scale of the financial abuse of older people across the UK is becoming apparent, from recently published figures. Cases are on the rise, still under-reported and more support is needed to help the older members of our society.
A charity in Wales, Age Cymru estimates there are 40,000 cases of elderly abuse each year in Wales – including physical, financial, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect. The charity also warned that the problem is mostly hidden and could be much higher than they estimate.
The Welsh Assembly has passed new legislation to strengthen the safeguards in place to protect people at risk of abuse which are due to come into force in 2016. Wales also has an Older People’s Commissioner Sarah Rochira who believes the current legal system fails to protect the elderly and does not act as a deterrent for those who perpetrate abuse against the elderly.
In Northern Ireland, recent figures (June 2015) show that more than 2,500 reports of suspected abuse of elderly people were made to health chiefs last year. This is the highest number since their records began in 2007. Of those 2,500 reports, 21% related to financial abuse. Professionals in Northern Ireland also believe that there are many cases which aren’t being reported and the official figures don’t accurately reflect what is happening behind closed doors.
In Scotland, the most recent figures from Age Scotland are from 2011, but even they show that around 1 in 40 people over the age of 66 reported experiencing abuse (equating to approximately 22,700 people). Financial abuse was the second most common type of abuse after neglect.
“Abuse of the elderly it appears, is sadly on the rise. Even if concerns are raised with professionals or the police, it can often be difficult to prove for a number of reasons which means that the actions they can take against the perpetrator are limited. In many cases, abuse is carried out by the victims own relatives or close friends and the person may be too ashamed to report what has happened. Would you want to admit your own grandchild has been stealing from you?”
The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is different to England & Wales. Here, the government passed the Care Act 2014 to reform the law relating to care and support for carers, including provision to safeguard adults from abuse and neglect.
Figures from 2013 show that 370,000 older people were abused either in their own home or a care home. If figures continue to rise as they have been doing, over 450,000 will be abused in the year 2020.
Signs to watch out for include:
- 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.
If you are worried about financial abuse you should seek specialist legal advice sooner rather than later. Ridley & Hall solicitors are able to offer you a free 30 minute consultation to discuss your options.
There may be preventative steps you can take such as appointing people who you trust to be your attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney. For more information on LPAs contact our Wills & Probate team on 01484 538421.
Or, if you suspect financial abuse has taken place, it may be possible to recover monies that have been taken unlawfully and to take action to prevent further abuse, such as seeking an order from the Court of Protection to revoke the LPA or remove a deputy.
“People who are appointed as a deputy or attorney must always remember it is not their money to spend how they wish. We have in the past acted for clients who have been accused of misappropriating another person’s finances and faced investigation by the Office for the Public Guardian. Even if the abuse has only come to light after a person’s death, we may be able to help recover the money to form part of their estate.”
For legal advice on financial abuse, please contact us on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of our team.