Campaign aims to combat financial abuse of elderly

A national campaign to help stamp out financial abuse of vulnerable adults gets under way today against a backdrop of a 44% rise in the number of alleged cases.

Chair of the National Safeguarding Committee (NSC) Patricia Rickard-Clarke said abuse could be as subtle as spending a portion of a person’s pension as a perceived ‘reward’ for helping with their care. Or it could be highly calculated, involving acts of theft, coercion, fraud or intimidation.

The NSC’s Lift the Lid campaign is in the context of 1,645 cases of alleged adult financial abuse reported to the HSE National Safeguarding Office since it started collating data in January 2016.

Figures for the first six months of 2017 are up 44% for the same period last year. Ms Rickard-Clarke described them as “tip of the iceberg” and called for adult safeguarding legislation to tackle abuse. Justin Moran, spokesperson for Age Action, said their experience was that the overwhelming perpetrators were immediate family members.

“We have people contacting us with concerns about control of property, vehicles, money. The fact that it’s often a brother, son, niece, nephew makes it all the more challenging because of fear of getting family members into trouble with the gardaí,” he said.

Among the cases of elder abuse Age Action has encountered are elderly people being forced to leave their homes or hand over cash under threat of being put in a nursing home by family.

Ms Rickard-Clarke said there was a need for “a cross-sector and cross-agency system which can ‘red flag’ and bring to account inappropriate uses of people’s finances. This includes State agencies tracking recipients of monies they pay out, financial institutions identifying inappropriate access to accounts and transparency from nursing homes when they are appointed as agents”.

An agent is appointed on behalf of a vulnerable person to ensure their money is managed directly for their benefit.

Ms Rickard-Clarke said a new Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017, put forward by Independent Senator Colette Kelleher, contains measures to tackle financial abuse. He said the legislation “needs to include responsibility for all parties to report suspicious cases to the gardai, who then can prosecute wrongdoers, be they organisations or individuals”.

Part of the current problem with detecting financial abuse was the lack of exchange of information between agencies, she said.

“For example banks may not know when a person lacks capacity and somebody may be withdrawing money that is not the person with the account. If information was shared appropriately where people are in vulnerable situations, it would raise a flag,” Ms Rickard Clarke said.

HSE National Safeguarding Office 061 461358.


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