Lawyers have today called for safeguarding laws and the establishment of an agency that can act as a first port of call for professionals, individuals and families looking to report suspected financial abuse.
Maurice Blackburn national head of Wills and Estates Law Andrew Simpson said while services exist to help older people with financial abuse, the majority of these services operate like patchwork and few people have knowledge of what their rights are or where they can go to seek help.
“At the moment it is virtually impossible for an individual or a professional to navigate and negotiate the maze of services available if they suspect elder financial abuse,” Mr Simpson said.
“The Australian Banking Association has recently put a much needed spotlight on this issue, but it extends well beyond banking staff – indeed there are many professionals such as lawyers, financial planners, social workers and others who see suspected financial abuse but have nowhere to go as a first port of call for what they should do about this.
“This is also a major issue for families who suspect abuse or for individuals, many are embarrassed or afraid to seek help and the idea of trying to find that help can be very daunting.
“The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) also noted this issue in its 2017 landmark report, recommending every state and territory adopt adult safeguarding laws including the establishment of a Safeguarding Agency that has the power to coordinate services and also investigate or report complaints to police if needed.
“That report was handed down 12 months ago, but we are still no closer to having such an agency at either a state or national level.
“This World Elder Abuse Awareness Day we are again calling on all levels of government to address this issue, including critically ensuring that any agency established protects the rights of elder people to self-determination, autonomy and independence.
“Such an agency must also have protections in place for professionals who come forward with concerns of elder financial abuse, including the relevant exemptions as needed so that if a bank teller, social worker or someone similar reports a concern they can do so without fearing a breach of privacy or confidentiality.
“There is a lot of reform under way to better protect older Australians, including a $22 million Federal funding package.
“Those reforms are welcome, but the reality is that bolstered services will be wasted if people don’t know these services exist or how to access them.
“A safeguarding agency – at the state or national level – would fix this, and we urge all governments to act on this critical ALRC recommendation as a priority,” he said.