Over 1,600 financial abuse cases reported in 18 months

Figures may represent only the ‘tip of the iceberg’, watchdog committee chair warns

 National safeguarding committee chairperson Patricia Rickard Clarke said financial abuse can be highly calculated, or can be very subtle. Photograph: Eric Luke

National safeguarding committee chairperson Patricia Rickard Clarke said financial abuse can be highly calculated, or can be very subtle. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

More than 1,600 cases of financial abuse of vulnerable adults have been reported to the Health Service Executive’s national safeguarding office over an 18-month period to the end of June, according to newly-released figures.

However, the chairperson of the national safeguarding committee (NSC), Patricia Rickard Clarke, has warned these figures represented reported cases and so may be “just the tip of the iceberg”.

Financial abuse can arise when, due to reduced capacity, a vulnerable adult signs over management of their finances to an appointed family member or agent – an organisation or person known to them.

“While the vast majority of people are honest, it is estimated that 20 per cent of agents abuse their role,” the NSC says.

Ms Rickard Clarke said financial abuse can be highly calculated, or can be very subtle: “In some cases financial abuse involves aggressive acts of theft, coercion, fraud or intimidation. However, it can also be subtle, and even unintended, as agents or family members may not recognise their wrongdoing.

“For example, it may involve quietly spending a portion of a person’s pension as a perceived ‘reward’ for helping with their care, or occasionally keeping change to cover personal expenses.”

Large amounts

She stressed very large amounts of money are paid out each year to older people which needs to be protected. “For example, the State will pay out €7.2 billion [to] older persons this year. If 10 per cent is subject to financial abuse then the scale of the issue becomes clear.”

In total 1,645 cases of alleged financial abuse of adults have been reported since the national safeguarding office started collating data in January 2016 up to June 2017. This includes an increase of about 44 per cent in the first half of 2017 compared with a similar period last year.

The NSC says it now wants to lift the lid on the problem and raise awareness of it. Safeguarding legislation must be put in place to tackle it, it says.

Today it begins a public-awareness campaign to encourage greater vigilance in relation to financial abuse among the State, financial and nursing-home sectors.

A draft Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017 put forward by Independent Senator Collette Kelleher has been before the Oireachtas health committee this month and focuses on creating a system of checks and balances to prevent theft.

The NSC was established to protect vulnerable adults including older people and those with dementia, mental health problems, and physical and intellectual disabilities.

Its members include Age Action, Active Retirement Ireland, the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, An Garda Síochána, Hiqa, the Law Society, and the Department of Social Protection, among others.