The collective, made up of National Seniors Australia, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, Legal Aid and the Australian Banking Association, has started their action to “crack down” on financial abuse of the elderly by signing a joint letter that was sent to every state and federal attorney-general, calling on them to take decisive action at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting tomorrow (Friday 7 June).
National Seniors Interim Chief Executive Office (CEO) Professor John McCallum says around five percent of older Australians are subjected to financial abuse, encouraging for more to be done to tackle the issue.
“It’s a heartbreaking situation and banking staff often see firsthand elderly people being taken advantage of by trusted family, friends and carers,” Professor McCallum says.
“As a society we can and need to do more to support older people who are being exploited this way.”
Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh stood by Professor McCallum, saying it is time for a decisive outcome from the attorney general in order to empower bank staff to tackle this growing problem.
“Every year in Australia older people are the victim of financial crimes, and while we often see terrible stories about elderly people being robbed, we very rarely get any insight into a far more silent and sinister crime being committed against older Australians - financial abuse,” Ms Bligh says.
“Financial abuse is a serious and far reaching problem that can happen to anyone, but some people, like the elderly, people with a disability, or other vulnerable and isolated people are at greater risk.
“Increased house prices and reasonable superannuation balances can mean that some older people are in a good financial position [and] for some adult children, this leads to what some refer to as inheritance impatience.
“Seniors advocacy groups and the banking industry are united in their determination to see action on this problem.”
Professor McCallum says what Australia needs is a designated organisation in each jurisdiction where bank staff can be supported to safely report suspected financial abuse for investigation.
“At the moment, police generally require the customer to make a complaint,” he explains.
“Apart from the Queensland Public Advocacy Offices, other states and territories often require the bank to make a formal application providing detailed information about the customer, for example their medical history.
“This is not an appropriate role for the banks.”
He says the group has called on the state and territory attorney-generals to adopt the Queensland model, where the Office of the Public Guardian has the power to investigate allegations that an adult has been neglected, exploited or abused.
“We are seeking the active participation of all governments and stakeholders to achieve meaningful progress in this area to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” Professor McCallum says.
“The exact incidence of elder abuse is difficult to come by as it happens within private homes and is often unreported because of embarrassment or unpleasant family dynamics.
“But we do know that as a community, we can do more to prevent this type of abuse, which is why National Seniors is part of this campaign and why we’re calling on the attorney-generals to take action."