Legal measures to protect elderly and vulnerable listed in report

Financial abuse part of ‘adult safeguarding’ study by Law Reform Commission

The commission notes that “the discriminatory abuse of at-risk people generally is not classed as a hate crime in Ireland”. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

The commission notes that “the discriminatory abuse of at-risk people generally is not classed as a hate crime in Ireland”. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA


Legislation allowing authorities to enter properties where they believe an elderly or vulnerable person is being abused is among the measures canvassed in a major report on “adult safeguarding” by the Law Reform Commission.

Financial abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of mistreatment of elderly and vulnerable people, according to the report.

The commission is seeking submissions on whether a new national adult safeguarding authority should be established, or whether existing bodies should be asked to take over the role.

There is widespread agreement on the need for a clear statutory framework for the protection of vulnerable adults from physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse, the commission says in a paper on a Regulatory Framework for Adult Safeguarding.

The Law Reform Commission is a State body that runs a rolling programme of reviewing the law and making proposals for its modernisation and clarification.

Legislation to allow the authorities to order people to stay away from vulnerable people is among the topics canvassed in the paper.

While there is a lack of comprehensive statistics, available research indicates “a high level of abuse suffered by older people in particular”, according to the commission report.

Health-related abuse

A 2018 survey by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People found that two out of three bank staff had suspected a customer had been the victim of financial abuse, while a survey last year by the Banking and Payment Federation of Ireland found that 20 per cent of adults had experienced financial abuse.

In 2017, 10,000 safeguarding concerns were notified to the Health Service Executive, which illustrates the scale of health-related abuse, the commission noted.

The private member’s Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017, introduced in the Seanad by Senator Colette Kelleher, included a proposal for a new dedicated authority.

An Oireachtas committee agreed the matter required further research, leading to the commission including the topic in its Fifth Programme of Law Reform.

Ms Kelleher is a former social worker and former chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland.

Abuse and neglect in relation to adult safeguarding can include acts of omission such as ignoring medical or physical needs, or depriving people of food, warmth, health, and social and education needs.

Psychological abuse, which HSE statistics indicate is a significant problem, can include “being ignored or being made to feel discounted”.

The commission notes that while at-risk adults are protected from discrimination in some circumstances, “the discriminatory abuse of at-risk people generally is not classed as a hate crime in Ireland”.

Victim’s family

In relation to financial abuse, the report notes studies and statistics that show the abuser is often a member of the victim’s family.

People whose sole income is the State pension are particularly prone to mistreatment, research shows.

Increased training for banking staff, and new protections for bank employees who flag what they believe are causes for concern, are canvassed in the report, which notes that branch closures and the move to online banking has placed older people at increased risk.

The report canvasses the arguments for and against new powers to allow the authorities enter property because of concerns about adult abuse.

A study of the topic in England found that this was “a very sensitive and complex issue that divided opinion”.

The study found there was no conclusive proof that such a measure would do more good than harm, with concerns being expressed about a disproportionate interference with the rights of vulnerable people, albeit that such a measure might be beneficial in a few individual cases.

The measure was not proceeded with in England.

The paper has been published on the commission’s website and responses are being sought prior to April 30th next.