Every year on 15th June, the nations across the UK come together to highlight the issue of elder abuse and educate people on how to spot or prevent abuse, as well as how to get help if they are being abused.
Elder abuse can be financial, physical, sexual, or psychological (emotional), or can be caused by neglect. A report published in December 2017 regarding adult safeguarding showed that the majority of people who were the subject of a safeguarding enquiry such as elder abuse were over 65, however this age range made up only 63% showing that abuse can still take place amongst younger vulnerable adults. During 2016/2017 364,605 concerns of abuse were raised, which equates to just under 1000 per day!
So why are these figures so high and are they on the increase?
The statistics show that there was a 6% increase from 2015/2016 on those subject to a safeguarding enquiry. This is most likely down the fact that we have an ageing population as statistics in relation to Dementia are also increasing year on year, however there are also more schemes and campaigns that are linked to the issue of elder abuse such as Dementia Action Week, Mental Health Awareness, Lasting Power of Attorney campaigns, and generally more focus on the matter.
At Clapham & Collinge all our staff are trained offered training to become Dementia Friends, and we are committee members for Norwich City Dementia Action Alliance. We frequently hold Dementia Awareness sessions for the community to raise their awareness of not only Dementia but also topics linked closely to it like elder abuse. We also raise awareness of elder abuse/abuse of vulnerable people through case studies shown at our Legal Briefings.
Why does elder abuse happen?
Most people do not intend to abuse those close to them, but abuse such as financial abuse can happen easily and often when they initially have the person's 'best interests' at heart. It is regularly the case that the person who is being abused is too trusting either because it is a friend or family member, or sometimes because they do not see the consequences due to their vulnerability.
Examples of Elder Abuse
- The 'helpful' neighbour
While perhaps helping a neighbour with their garden or other chores and the person offers you some money for your trouble. You could then assist with their shopping, but during this time you pick up some items for yourself with their money as you are sure they wouldn't mind. A few weeks later they give you their card and disclose their PIN and tell you to get them some money out for them, but instead you also take out money from their account for you as well. This is then a slippery slope into taking money knowing it is not in the person's best interests or what they would want or agree to.
- The 'generous' attorney
If you act as an attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) there are strict rules on gifting. Often attorneys are not aware of this or think that the person would not mind, or if they had capacity would make the gift themselves. This can get out of hand with attorneys gifting thousands of pounds, and in some cases the person's property.
- The 'careful' family member
It is the level of income and assets which determines if the local authority will contribute towards your care home fees.
You may be aware of this and decide to transfer or spend that person's money so that it is not used to pay for care fees, and the local authority will pay instead. You may believe this is in that person's best interests but this is an example of financial abuse as you will seen as actually acting in your own best interests, not the best interests of that person and their money or ongoing care.
- The 'obeying' daughter
It can be difficult to see someone you love suffering from an illness, and then having to make decisions that are in their best interests, setting aside your own feelings or what they are telling you. This was recently the case with a solicitor who was acting in a personal capacity as attorney for her mother. Her mother was adamant she did not want outside care, and her daughter, the attorney, acted on this as she didn't want to go against her mother. She did not act in her mother's best interests as she should have involved healthcare professionals in her mother's care, and as a result her mother suffered serious neglect as her clothing was not changed for a decade and her hair had become matted and dreadlocked.
How to prevent elder abuse?
The first step is to ensure you have the necessary legal documents in place, and that you have sought legal advice. DIY documents such as Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) can leave you vulnerable to abuse if someone has coerced you into making that decision or you have not considered the consequence of certain decisions.
It is important to review your Will every 5 years to make sure it still reflects your wishes, and that if there have been any life changing events these do not make it invalid. When you make a Will, the lawyer will take details of your finances not only to provide the necessary legal advice, but also to ensure you have the assets to enable you to make certain gifts or provisions.
It is essential that when making a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) that you give consideration to who should be your attorney and if they are appropriate for that role. If you are unsure it is important to seek legal advice. You also have the opportunity in the documents to be very clear on how an attorney should act, either leaving your preferences or strict instructions for when you lose capacity. Remember – you can always appoint a professional.
If you are acting as an attorney it is vital that you follow the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 whenever you are making a decision on behalf of that person. If you are unsure on your role you should seek legal advice as a lawyer can provide clarification on your role and what this means. If you are planning on gifting that person's money you should make sure it is within the guidelines sent by the Office of the Public Guardian – they are able to provide information to attorneys also and that where relevant you have the authority of the court.
The easiest and most effective way to prevent elder abuse is to keep in touch with those friends or family members that you think could be susceptible to abuse. Checking in on them, or picking up the phone for a chat will ensure you know what it going on and can pick up on any triggers. It is usually the case that elder abuse is not discovered until the person has passed away and the family come to assess their assets thinking they had a sizeable sum but there is very little or nothing left!
If you have any concerns regarding abuse you may be suffering or on someone else's behalf these can be raised with Norfolk Police, Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board, the Office of the Public Guardian or Action on Elder Abuse Charity.
Our team of expert Wills, Trusts and Probate solicitors have a wealth of legal experience, and are dementia friendly trained. Contact us today to discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our specialist solicitors will talk you through your options and advise on the next steps. Call 01603 693500 or email us using 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham and Sheringham offices.
*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.