Elderly not protected from financial abuse - forum

 

THE DEPARTMENT of Finance has failed to “step up to the plate” to protect older people from financial abuse, a conference on elder abuse was told yesterday.

The chairman of the Government’s Elder Abuse National Implementation Group, Professor Des O’Neill, said the group was very disappointed the department had refused to become part of the team set up to address financial abuse of the elderly.

Mr O’Neill was speaking at Protecting Older Adults: Interweaving Responses to Elder Abuse, a conference organised by Age Action Ireland in Dublin.

Elder abuse can take many forms including physical, financial, psychological, material or sexual.

The conference heard the number of cases of elder abuse reported to the HSE is about 1,800 a year, but in reality was likely to be between 14,000 and 23,000, based on studies in other countries. The majority of abuse occurs in the family environment, with 16 per cent of people experiencing financial abuse, both by friends and family and by financial institutions.

Cases discussed included one of an 83-year-old woman who was sold a €30,000, five-year investment bond and died before it matured.

Mr O’Neill said his group’s role was to oversee the implementation of the Government’s Protecting Our Future report, which was published in 2002.

Since then, there had been no significant moves to provide training on elder abuse, or for the detection, assessment and management of elder abuse, he said.

“The Department of Health and Children and the HSE have done very well in this area, but there has been a failure by the rest of Government, in particular the Department of Finance and the financial sector to step up to the plate,” Mr O’Neill said.

The group had asked that a senior representative of the Department become part of a team established to help tackle financial abuse, but this had not happened.

They had “communicated their disappointment” to the Government, he said.

The issue was wider than health and social care and needed to be addressed in the legal, financial and educational areas, he said.

He said if a visa card was skimmed the bank would be in touch to warn its owner. Banks needed to be trained to deal with similar situations for older people, for example they could offer to monitor their accounts for unusual flows and warn them or another family member if they occurred.

Law Reform Commissioner Patricia Rickard-Clarke said mechanisms put in place to protect older people including the Enduring Power of Attorney, were being abused.

“Elderly people’s assets are put into joint accounts for the convenience of the older person and then the attorney goes into the bank and starts withdrawing cash for their own benefit,” she said.

Banks needed to ask questions when an elderly person presented to open a joint bank account including, why they were opening it, and what they intended to happen to it after their death, Ms Rickard-Clarke said.

And she said there needed to be education in hospitals to deal with the attendance of a solicitor for the purposes of will making. Nurses or doctors needed to ask the older person if they wanted the solicitor in the first place.

Launching the conference, Minister for Older People Áine Brady said she would call on the financial institutions to discuss how best to protect older people against financial abuse.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on why the department had refused to become part of a team set up to address financial abuse of the elderly.