21 Oct 2013

Call for commissioner to probe abuse of elderly

1:55 pm on 21 October 2013

Aged care advocates say the shocking toll of financial abuse on the elderly must be addressed and the Government should appoint a watchdog.

Grey Power and the Aged Care Association have released a report setting out the case for an Aged Care Commissioner.

They say more than 1000 referrals of elder abuse and neglect are made to Age Concern each year, half of those involving financial abuse.

President of Grey Power, Roy Reid, says the abuse often happens once a family member has been given the legal authority to manage an older person's property and assets.

"We hear quite often of cases where an older person, especially who is in care, where a family member has an enduring power of attorney and they abuse that right by spending their parent's money - mostly for their own personal gain."

Mr Reid says financial abuse is legalised theft.

Case study

The paper includes a case study about George, 94, who gave his daughter power of attorney when he entered a resthome.

She sold his house and put the money and George's superannuation payments in a separate account.

This left George in a Catch 22 situation where he could not access a Government subsidy for care because his daughter had not completed the asset and income declaration for Work and Income.

And because his assets had been sold and superannuation diverted, he had no means with which to pay for his care at a cost of over $700 per week.

Chief executive of the Aged Care Association, Martin Taylor, says rest homes notice when this kind of thing is happening to residents and sometimes a family will remove their elderly relative because of this factor.

In George's case the rest home took Family Court then District Court action

Mr Taylor says there needs to be action now to protect the growing elderly population in the future.

"The aim is too put something in place now to forestall what will be a far bigger problem in a number of years."

He says he has met with New Zealand First and hopes to meet with other political parties soon.

The joint paper also says even if rest homes are aware of such abuse and should report it, they are reluctant to do so because of the cost and complexity involved.

The paper says the problem is beyond the scope of the Retirement Commissioner and a new office is needed to investigate allegations and make applications to the Family Court.

More funding would boost service - Age Concern

Age Concern says it would like extra funding to enable it to take legal action in cases of financial abuse of older people.

The charity has done considerable research on the topic and has an Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service.

The service's national adviser, Louise Collins, says referrals are growing, and problems extend far beyond enduring powers of attorney alone.

She says more needs to be done about financial abuse of older people, and Age Concern is best placed to be doing it.

She says more funding would allow it to strengthen the service it offers and make it possible to employ legal expertise.

Louise Collins says Age Concern works with families to stop any abuse.

She says most cases don't need to go to court and the last thing many older people want is to take legal action against a family member.