Trusted advisers urged to prevent financial abuse of the elderly

06/08/2018 News Team

Advisers and practitioners have a duty to perpetuate the conversation around financial abuse of the elderly and drive change with the objective of protecting elderly clients in the UK, a seminar hosted by Wedlake Bell and 5 Stone Buildings has heard. 

The seminar featured panellists from the Metropolitan Police and private practice and examined topics ranging from criminal investigations and prosecution of financial abuse through to the impact of family dynamics on the care of elderly and vulnerable clients. 

Financial abuse of the elderly is prevalent, with Wedlake Bell’s Freedom of Information Act request to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2017 revealing that between 2013 and 2017, care homes had reported 13,000 safeguarding alerts to the CQC about financial abuse incidents. 

Ann Stanyer, a private client partner at Wedlake Bell and an advocate for elderly welfare, called on the UK Government to commission a Parliamentary report or inquiry into taking action on the issue of financial abuse of the elderly in February this year.

At the seminar, she said: “Our job is to identify those at risk, put in place proper and robust legal protections and ensure that lines of communication are maintained. Do not take what you are being told at face value – be curious – ask the questions – it protects you and the client.”

Ms Stanyer cited the dramatic increase in the elderly population as reasons for the increase in elderly financial abuse. ONS 2016 figures stated that 18 percent of the UK population is over 65 and 2.4 percent aged 85 and over. Another issue is the increase in dementia sufferers; a report from Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) showed that the number of people diagnosed with dementia increased by over 50 per cent in between 2005/6 to 2016/17 to 540,000. 

Andrew O’Keeffe, a partner and head of the private client team at Wedlake Bell, highlighted certain behaviours that advisers should look out for. Key indicators of abuse could include: an unkempt home where the victim is housebound; Social isolation, which could take the form of increased dependence on the perpetrator; and caregivers/family members taking an excessive interest in the amount of money being spent on the elderly person.

Barbara Rich, senior counsel at 5 Stone Buildings, highlighted that there is a lack of true understanding as to what responsibilities are required of adult individuals who agree to take on this role for an elderly relative or family, whereas deputies are asked a lot of questions and some of the information provided by individuals can be checked against public records.

Ms Rich suggested: “A safeguard that might work for the average person would be establishing a requirement for attorneys to produce annual accounts to be drafted or submitted to qualified accountants. There is nothing in the way of actual redress for the elderly client who has been defrauded because the perpetrator will only be ordered to pay whatever funds they possess.

“Better regulation of care home finances could be a way to manage gifts and money that elderly clients are handing over to care home staff, as a way of helping to detect fraud.”

Detective Constable Andrew Brown from the Metropolitan Police stated that around three-quarters of financial abuse of the elderly falls into the category of carer abuse.

He said: “Whistle-blowers of financial abuse of the elderly in care homes, tend to be new members of staff. If we can get usually get two whistle-blowers to come forward, we can secure a conviction.”

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