COMBATING elder abuse and protecting the rights of older Australians has been given a new priority by governments and banks.
Almost 80,000 older Australians have suffered physical violence at the hands of someone known to them and many others have been financially exploited, often by a family member.
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter used World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, on June 15, to announce a new peak body, Elder Abuse Action Australia, the first group to specifically target elder abuse, and particularly safeguard against financial abuse.
“It’s one of the main forms of abuse older people experience … people are very trusting, particularly family members,” Elder Abuse Action Australia director Jenny Blakey said.
“People sign things over and not realise what they’ve done.”
Mr Porter said EEAA would help tackle serious crimes of fraud and theft, working with law enforcement in such matters as estates, property and bank accounts.
Advocacy group Greysafe is concerned bank job cuts and new technologies are exposing elderly customers to new threats of financial abuse.
“We’ve heard many reports of perpetrators spending the money of their victims without permission, forging signatures or forcing older Australians to sign bank forms,” Greysafe chief Mike Cahill said.
“Unfortunately, when faced with new technology and change, older Australians will often put trust in a family member to help or take control of their banking, thus putting them at greater risk of financial abuse and manipulation.”
Last month, the banking industry and seniors groups successfully lobbied state and federal attorneys-general to progress standardised power-of-attorney orders to prevent vulnerable parents from “inheritance impatience”.
Mr Cahill believes if banks employ dedicated and properly trained “elder protection officers” in branches it will leave them less exposed to adverse action and potential compensation payments.
Australian Banking Association chief executive Anna Bligh said frontline banking staff had horror stories about elderly parents having their homes signed away or large sums of money being taken from their account by adult children.
She’s called for authorities other than police to have stronger powers to investigate these cases.
The Queensland Government has also prioritised elder abuse prevention, by announcing it will expand financial and legal support services for seniors as part of its 2018 State Budget.
Minister for Seniors Coralee O’Rourke announced an expanded elder abuse prevention unit and the roll-out of services to Gladstone, Rockhampton, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Mackay.
“Our seniors have worked hard contributing to their thriving communities for their entire lives and they deserve to live free from elder abuse and financial scams,” Mrs O’Rourke said.
The Government will continue to fund existing prevention unit services in Toowoomba, Brisbane, Hervey Bay, Cairns and Townsville.
The Government has also undertaken to expand a seniors’ enquiry line allowing seniors to access expertise and advice on consumer protection issues and scams.