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Government urged to tackle elder financial abuse

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Annie Kane 5 minute read

The ABA is calling on governments across Australia to establish new laws to protect people from elder financial abuse, as new research shows that 87 per cent of Australians want more to be done at a government level to stamp out this form of abuse.

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) has launched a new campaign, Stop Elder Financial Abuse, in partnership with Bauer Media, in a bid to bring about more protections for elderly people.

The Stop Elder Financial Abuse campaign, which is backed by a petition, calls on governments across Australia to establish a standardised law that would protect people from this kind of abuse as well as set up a National Power of Attorney (POA) register to check if POA documents are legitimate and current.  

The petition also calls on each state government to establish a new system or body where abuse can be reported and where reports will be investigated.

According to new YouGov research released by the ABA, 87 per cent of Australians want their government to do more to stop elder financial abuse.

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The research also found that 57 per cent of Australians are worried about a loved one experiencing financial abuse.

According to the ABA, around one in 10 older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, with the prevalence of neglect possibly higher.

The ABA is now calling on groups, major organisations and individuals to “get on board to help address this very important issue”.

Speaking of the new campaign, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association, Anna Bligh, commented: “The growing problem of elder financial abuse in our community is an uncomfortable truth that every Australian should be aware of.

“Bank staff have told me stories of attempting to intervene in situations where they see money drained out of the accounts of pensioners, often for items they are not using such as holidays or expensive jewellery, but the victim is unwilling or unable to report what is really happening.” 

She added: “Governments need to establish a national online register of Power of Attorney Orders, standardise laws and legislate a designated safe place to report elder financial abuse.”

The joint campaign is also part of Bauer’s Financially Fit Females initiative, which aims to improve the financial literacy of Australian women across the country. According to the Melbourne Institute’s HILDA survey 2018, Australian women are much less financially literate than men, with just 35 per cent of women considered financially literate compared with 50 per cent of men. 

Bauer Media journalist and finance ambassador Effie Zahos added: “If you lose your decision-making capability, then a power of attorney is a critical tool that you want to ensure is in place. It allows somebody you trust to make decisions for you, manage your finances and assets. 

“Any potential for misuse of Power of Attorney Orders can be minimised through a national online register, as currently there is no way of checking the validity of the Power of Attorney document. 

“We feel extremely passionate about this cause which disproportionately affects women. We need to make important changes to empower people, such as local bank branch staff, to detect and report abuse,” she said.

The CEO of Seniors Rights Service, Russell Westacott, welcomed the new campaign, stating: “Every year, we see 650 presentations of people experiencing elder abuse, which means every day our doors are open we see at least two or three people. 

“Of these, most people report financial abuse and they carry the shame that it has been perpetrated, most often, by a son, daughter or grandchild. 

“This abuse is unacceptable; we need to stop it,” he said.

Financial abuse training to be rolled out to brokers

The Stop Elder Financial Abuse campaign builds on the work that the ABA has been taking to reduce financial abuse, after the ABA updated its Banking Code of Practice to bring in a higher standard of customer care when dealing with individuals and small-business customers.

As of 1 July, those in the lending market are required to “take extra care with customers who may be vulnerable”, including those who are experiencing:

  1. age-related impairment
  2. cognitive impairment
  3. elder abuse
  4. family or domestic violence
  5. financial abuse
  6. mental illness
  7. serious illness
  8. any other personal or financial circumstance causing significant detriment 

The banking and broking industries have agreed on a “common approach to identifying the signs of financial abuse in a co-borrower arrangement”, with training expected to be rolled out in due course.

[Related: Common approach agreed on financial abuse requirements]

Government urged to tackle elder financial abuse
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Annie Kane

Annie Kane

Annie Kane is the editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business.

As well as writing about the Australian broking industry, the mortgage market, financial regulation, fintechs and the wider lending landscape – Annie is also the host of the Elite Broker and In Focus podcasts and The Adviser Live webcasts. 

Email Annie at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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