Tak­ing steps to stop abuse

Banks need to col­lab­o­rate with govern­ment agen­cies

Gatton Star - - ADVERTISING FEATURE - — Eileen Webb and Teresa Somes, The Con­ver­sa­tion

THROUGH­OUT Aus­tralia older peo­ple are los­ing their sav­ings, prop­erty and homes through fi­nan­cial abuse, usu­ally at the hands of peo­ple close to them such as an adult child or grand­child.

A sense of en­ti­tle­ment, “in­her­i­tance im­pa­tience” or op­por­tunism can en­cour­age peo­ple to ‘help them­selves’ to an older per­son’s as­sets.

El­der abuse is not a new prob­lem.

It has been oc­cur­ring for gen­er­a­tions, but it is only now se­ri­ous steps are be­ing taken to ad­dress it.

The ex­tent of el­der abuse in Aus­tralia is un­known, but con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates sug­gest at least nine per cent of older Aus­tralians suf­fer from fi­nan­cial abuse.

How­ever, we know that be­cause of the hid­den na­ture of the prob­lem, most cases go un­re­ported.

Sadly, most older fi­nan­cial abuse oc­curs within fam­i­lies, and is de­fined as the il­le­gal or im­proper use of a per­son’s fi­nances or prop­erty by an­other per­son with whom they have a re­la­tion­ship im­ply­ing trust.

On Oc­to­ber 1 this year the Com­mon­wealth At­tor­neygen­eral an­nounced a suite of mea­sures to ad­dress el­der abuse.

Th­ese will in­clude ini­ti­at­ing a peak body fo­cused on el­der abuse, an on­line knowl­edge hub, and ed­u­ca­tion ma­te­ri­als to bet­ter sup­port older Aus­tralians.

But, as Michael Ri­ley, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the el­der ad­vo­cacy group Greysafe, notes: “We know the prob­lems, we now need an ac­tion plan and time­lines put in place to come up with so­lu­tions”.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties for el­der fi­nan­cial abuse are ex­ac­er­bated by the de­per­son­al­i­sa­tion of bank­ing ser­vices.

An in­crease in elec­tronic ser­vices means that older peo­ple are more vul­ner­a­ble to such ex­ploita­tion than in the past.

Although crim­i­nal law ad­dresses mat­ters such as theft and fraud, low con­vic­tion rates in­di­cate the dif­fi­culty of bring­ing an el­der abuse mat­ter be­fore a court.

Fur­ther­more, many older peo­ple do not want to pur­sue rel­a­tives in crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings – de­spite the ex­pe­ri­ence, they wish to main­tain fam­ily re­la­tion­ships.

Part of the so­lu­tion may rest with banks and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions which are of­ten at the front line when in­stances of el­der fi­nan­cial abuse arise.

There has been some re­luc­tance on the part of banks and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to ad­dress el­der abuse cit­ing con­cerns re­gard­ing pri­vacy obli­ga­tions, le­gal li­a­bil­ity, and the ab­sence of a con­sis­tent re­port­ing frame­work.

To date, some bank staff re­ceive train­ing to deal with el­der abuse de­tec­tion and banks fol­low the in­dus­try guide­line, Pro­tect­ing Vul­ner­a­ble Cus­tomers from Po­ten­tial Fi­nan­cial Abuse.

In the ab­sence of a broad na­tional re­port­ing frame­work, there is no co­he­sive strat­egy as to how to deal with the el­der fi­nan­cial abuse.

Fur­ther­more, there are no whistle­blower pro­tec­tions for bank em­ploy­ees who may be ex­posed to le­gal ac­tion from fam­i­lies in the event that fi­nan­cial abuse is not proven.

This can make bank em­ploy­ees re­luc­tant to re­port sus­pected abuse. To ad­dress this, the Aus­tralian Law Re­form Com­mis­sion rec­om­mended that the Code of Bank­ing Prac­tice should en­sure that banks be obliged to take “rea­son­able steps” to pre­vent the fi­nan­cial abuse of vul­ner­a­ble cus­tomers.

PHOTO: SHIRONOSOV/THINKSTOCK

SHORT CHANGED: El­der fi­nan­cial abuse has the po­ten­tial to dev­as­tate in­di­vid­u­als at the most vul­ner­a­ble point in their lives as well as have a detri­men­tal im­pact on so­ci­ety as a whole.

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