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MEDIA RELEASE: Extra funding provided for Seniors Rights Victoria

Media Release | 25 June 2020

A total of $321,500 in funding over the next two years will help Seniors Right Victoria maintain services to older Victorians — especially those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — who are experiencing elder abuse.

Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey welcomed the extra funding announced recently by the Victorian Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy.

‘On 9 May 2020, I was pleased to announce $17.5 million in additional funding to assist frontline legal assistance services in responding to COVID-19,’ Ms Hennessy said.

‘Our funding matched—and exceeded—the Commonwealth Government’s commitment of $12.092 million.

‘The additional funds for Seniors Rights Victoria recognise that it provides specialist legal assistance in an area of heightened demand for a vulnerable client cohort, due to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions.

‘I appreciate the way you and your team have maintained consistent and effective service delivery during these difficult times.’

Ms Blakey thanked the Victorian Government for the extra funding which she said would help Seniors Rights Victoria maintain advocacy and legal services for people who were experiencing elder abuse.

‘Callers to our helpline — 1300 368 821 — are more anxious and under greater stress because of the pandemic,’ Ms Blakey said. ‘We know that when families experience significant financial pressures that some older family members may be unduly pressured to surrender money and assets.

‘Elder abuse stems from the way the community views older Victorians. Unless we acknowledge and value the key part that older people play in our society, we will not reduce the rates of elder abuse. The current restrictions should not mean that older Victorians are any less engaged and included than before the pandemic.’

Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people.
Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust such as family or friends. If you, your client or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, call the confidential helpline on 1300 368 821.

For more information, call Phillip Money, Senior Media and Communications Advisor, COTA Victoria, on 0407 329 055.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Seniors Rights Victoria warns on financial abuse of seniors

Media Release | 28 April 2020

Seniors Rights Victoria today warned of the potential increase of elder abuse as a result of the economic and unemployment impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Jenny Blakey, the Manager of Seniors Rights Victoria, said significant economic and emotional pressures on families who did not have funds to pay for their rent, mortgages or regular bills could heighten the risk of elder financial abuse of older people and the broader community.

Ms Blakey said financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of a person’s property, finances and other assets without their informed consent or where consent is obtained by fraud or manipulation.

“On experience, this usually occurs between an older person and a family member but can also occur with carers or friends. The older person may not have the capacity or be empowered to make a decision which protects their assets or financial security.

“In many cases older people can be influenced by their family, friends and carers in negotiations or actions that are detrimental to the older person’s immediate or long-term interest without any independent oversight.”    

Examples of common financial elder abuse include: 

  • A family member taking a loan with a promise of repayment but not paying the money back
  • Taking money or using an older person’s banking and credit card without consent
  • Pressuring an older person to make changes to a will or other legal documents
  • Sale of any property or assets without authority or consent
  • Forced transfers of property.

Ms Blakey said the protection of the financial or personal interests of older people is vital because they may become homeless, in debt, lose money to pay for future aged care and result in a reduced pension.

“Dealing with financial elder abuse can be complicated when there is no independent advice to the older person. Individuals within the family may have different agendas and seek to gain control of the financial outcomes to their benefits to the detriment of the older person.

“This type of situation can place the older parent under great emotional pressure and cause increased anxiety, mental pressure and impact on their health and wellbeing.”  

Ms Blakey said older people are essential in the fabric of our society. It’s time for us to acknowledge their importance and recognise they are entitled to the respect of their communities and especially their families.

Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice, education and specialist legal services to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people.

For assistance, contact Seniors Rights Victoria on their free and confidential Helpline 1300 368 821

Media Enquiries:
Ron Smith
Media Communications
COTA Victoria
Mobile: 0417 329 201

Seniors Rights Victoria Case Study

Jane, aged 85 years, lives alone and lives with a medical condition which restricts her mobility outside her home. Jane receives community services from the local council.

As a result of her situation Jane relies on her daughter Sarah to assist her with her finances, which Sarah has been doing for a number of years.

Jane provides Sarah with her bank book and instructs Sarah the amount to be withdrawn from her bank account. Sarah goes to Jane’s local branch, whereby bank staff phone Jane to check Jane’s instructions.

This arrangement had been working well for Jane and thus agreed for Sarah to have internet access to her bank account.

Jane receives her monthly bank statements and checks them diligently.

Since the onset of COVID-19 and the government’s recommendations for people over the age of 70 years to self-isolate, Sarah has not been visiting Jane.

Because the banking arrangement had been working well for Jane, she agreed for Sarah to have internet access to her bank account to continue paying Jane’s bills for her.

Jane notices in her most recent bank statement Sarah has taken money from Jane’s bank account via internet transactions without her authority. As a result of these actions Jane wants to cancel Sarah’s internet authority to her bank account.

Jane speaks with a worker from the local council who visits Jane each Friday about her concerns. The worker assists Jane to contact her local branch via the telephone to discuss her concerns.

Outcome: The bank staff cease Sarah’s internet authority to access Jane’s bank account. Jane manages her bills by electronic direct debit. She has organized groceries delivered to her.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Community alert on increase of elder abuse

Media Release | 6 April 2020

Community alert on increase of elder abuse

Elder abuse is a lack of respect and violates an older person’s
basic right to feel safe.

…….. up to 14 per cent of older people may experience it in the form of physical, emotional, financial, social or sexual abuse.

Seniors Rights Victoria have issued an alert highlighting the potential increase of elder abuse in the community as a hidden impact of the COVID-19 emergency.

Research suggests that up to 14 per cent of older people may experience it in the form of physical, emotional, financial, social or sexual abuse.

Elder abuse can cause stress, anxiety and depression and lead to increased risk of ill health, hospitalisation and early death.

Seniors Rights Victoria Manager, Jenny Blakey said the major stress being caused by the unprecedented and drastic changes to the social fabric of Australia could cause an increase in elder abuse.

“Elder abuse is any mistreatment of an older person by another person with whom they have a relationship of trust. Often that person is a family member or carer, but it could be a friend or neighbour on whom they depend.”

Ms Blakey said in the current economic climate with large numbers of job losses and people being unable to pay their rent or home loans, the trend to move and live with older parents or other relatives will be driven by financial necessity.

“Depending on family relationships and arrangements this may work out, however, at Seniors Rights Victoria we deal with cases that have resulted in elder abuse.”

On many occasions the problem of elder abuse is raised with Seniors Rights Victoria by a family member or a friend who has concerns for a person’s welfare.

The different forms of elder abuse are ways for another person to take over or control the life or property of an older person, Ms Blakey said.

Some forms of elder abuse are criminal acts, for example, acts involving theft or fraud. Elder abuse is a lack of respect and violates an older person’s basic right to feel safe.

Media enquiries:
Ron Smith, Media Communications COTA Victoria, mobile: 0417 329 201
Jenny Blakey, Seniors Rights Victoria Manager, available for interview.

Warning signs of elder abuse

  • The older person seems fearful, worried or withdrawn.
  • They seem nervous or anxious with certain people.
  • Family and or friends are denied access to the person.
  • They no longer go out socially or get involved in activities.
  • Unexplained injuries such as bruises, broken bones, sprains, cuts etc.
  • Unpaid bills, unusual activity in bank accounts or credit cards
  • Changes to a will, title or other documents.
  • Disappearance of possessions.
  • Poor hygiene or personal care.
  • Absence of needed health items: hearing aids, dentures, medications.

Victoria’s ageing population

One of the most critical demographic changes is that more Victorians are growing older than ever before. As of 30 June 2019, 30.6% of Victorians enrolled to vote were aged 60 and over – that is in excess of 1.2 million voters.

Overall, more than 20% of the Victorian population is aged over 60 and that number is increasing rapidly.

By 2031, Victorians aged over 60 living in Greater Melbourne will comprise 22% of the population, and almost a third (31%) of Victorians living in rural and regional areas will be aged over 60.

Seniors Rights Victoria, part of the Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria offers a range of services to assist navigate the areas of elder abuse including a special free online booklet Concerned About an Older Person?Download a copy.

Seniors Rights Victoria helpline 1300 368 821

10 am–5 pm, Monday–Friday. Free support, legal advice, information and education. Visit Seniors Rights Victoria.

Seniors Rights Victoria Case Study

“When Uncle Zac let his alcoholic daughter, Gina move into his home, I was very concerned. I decided to visit more regularly, so that he knew I was there if he wanted to talk.

At first Zac said Gina was good company and as his eyesight was failing, he needed her to drive him to medical appointments and to the local shops.

Eventually Zac confided in me that Gina was not paying for her share of household expenses and that she charged Zac $50 every time she drove him around.

He could no longer afford a trip to the doctor. We rang Seniors Rights Victoria together. The staff spoke to Zac about applying for half-priced taxi fares, as well as his safety and care needs.

Gina is still living there, because that’s what Zac wanted, but now, he has his independence back. He is linked in with various community services and has a safety plan in case things go wrong. The best thing is that both Zac and Gina now know that if any further problems arise, help for Zac is just a phone call away.”

Members of the Elder Abuse Roundtable pictured last year with the Aged Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson AO, seated front right

Roundtable considers the impacts of COVID-19

Members of the Elder Abuse Roundtable pictured last year with the Aged Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson AO, seated front right

Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) is working hard to understand how older people, particularly those who are at risk of elder abuse, might be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated period of isolation.

SRV recently convened a meeting with organisations that are part of the Elder Abuse Roundtable to discuss how the pandemic is affecting older people within their client base and what can be done to mitigate the impacts.

The roundtables are held quarterly and are attended by organisations including National Ageing Research Institute (NARI), Victoria Police, Eastern Community Legal Service, Pronia, Transgender Victoria, Office of the Public Advocate, No To Violence, Better Place Australia, and Elder Rights Advocacy.

The discussion highlighted how many older people are feeling extremely isolated and lonely, having given up many of their usual activities, and not feeling comfortable accessing health and community services as they did before. With libraries, community and activity groups, cultural clubs and faith-based activities closed down, many people have been unable to stay in contact with their communities. This highlights a need for organisations to continue to reach out to the community, particularly people who do not have access to the internet and online services.

As some organisations have moved to providing services online or via telephone there is some concern that it is more difficult for professionals to pick up on signs that a person may be experiencing abuse. While telehealth and online services are better than nothing, they are not always suitable or user-friendly for older people, and it is important that the value of face-to-face contact is not lost as we move into a post-pandemic environment.

For some people their living arrangements have changed because of COVID-19, with respite options not readily available, or having to support family members who are out of work or facing other pressures. Older people who are private renters have also been having difficulty, particularly if their part-time work has been lost.

Importantly, the meeting recognised that as the official lockdown period begins to ease, older people as a more vulnerable cohort, continue to face uncertainty about what they should and shouldn’t do, highlighting the importance of continued advocacy for the needs of all older people at this time.

Dororthy Gilmour and Mary Barry who have initiated a Rotary program on family violence

Resource kit marks 100 years of Rotary Melbourne

Pictured above are Dorothy Gilmour, left, and Mary Barry

A project to mark the 100th anniversary of the Rotary Club of Melbourne will help raise awareness of elder abuse throughout Australia. ‘Rotary Melbourne is the first and largest club in Australasia,’ said Dorothy Gilmour, who initiated the Rotary Safe Families Program along with Mary Barry.

‘We have created two films and a message from Victoria Police for people to access, download and use as a tool to stem the flow and for prevention of family violence in particular violence against women, its impact on our children and abuse of our elderly,’ said Ms Gilmour.

Click here to access the resources

SRV Manager Jenny Blakey features along with the Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour in the video that discusses elder abuse.

‘I believe that everyone has the right to live safely and with dignity,’ Ms Blakey said in the video. ‘When I came to his job, I was really surprised that older people were not included. My concern is to make a change; to make some difference so that this [elder abuse] does not happen.’

Ms Gilmour is an educator in social sciences and therapist in trauma, loss and grief while Ms Barry was formerly chief executive officer of Our Watch, the national organisation to prevent violence against women and their children.

The Rotary Safe Families Program can be used at:

  • Rotary meetings throughout Australia
  • fund raisers on prevention of family violence/elder abuse
  • as an educational or information program in the workplace or community.
Illustration showing older woman holding a postcard detailing the Respect Older People: Call It Out Campaign

Respect Older People: Call It Out campaign relaunched

Respect Victoria and the state government have relaunched their Respect Older People: Call It Out campaign, which highlights the often-hidden nature of elder abuse and reminds Victorians that it is everybody’s business.

The campaign highlights the warning signs of elder abuse in the home and encourages neighbours, family members, friends, carers and community members to take action when it is safe to do so. The campaign also encourages older people to identify the warning signs of elder abuse and seek support, and is an important reminder that discrimination based on age has no place in our society.

Learn more about the campaign here.

 

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day banner depicting older woman

Stir a cuppa for seniors on elder abuse awareness day

Warm, safe houses, cups of tea, and liberal splashes of the colour purple will all be deployed next week to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on Monday 15 June. In December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

For some older people, their homes are not safe or warm due to elder abuse within their home.

Elder abuse is exacerbated by a lack of housing or insecure housing.

‘Elder abuse is a global social issue which affects the health, well-being, independence and human rights of millions of older people around the world,’ said the Manager of Seniors Rights Victoria, Ms Jenny Blakey. ‘It is an issue which deserves the attention of all in the community.’

Most elder abuse occurs within the family or in a domestic setting with the most common form being ‘intergenerational’ which is perpetrated by an adult child against their parent. The most common forms of elder abuse are financial, followed by psychological or social.

This year, WEAAD activities have shifted online. And while the format of many events has changed, the commitment of participants has not dimmed. Next Monday, the City of Melbourne will lead the charge, lighting up the town hall for the evening in purple, the colour associated with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It will also be joined by the City of Monash Town Hall in Glen Waverley.

For a complete listing of WEAAD events, visit the dedicated WEAAD website.

Stir a cuppa for seniors

SRV staff are encouraging people to follow our lead next Monday afternoon (June 15) when we will be holding an online purple tea party called ‘Stir A Cuppa For Seniors’ with seniors and others. We encourage you to host your own purple tea parties and post the pictures on social media with the hashtag #WEAAD. The attached PDF file provides information about how to host your online tea party.

Warm safe home project

The importance of safe, secure accommodation towards reducing elder abuse will be highlighted through on online forum to be held on Thursday 18 June.

Former Aged Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan AO will be the keynote speaker at the Warm Safe Home online forum. Organiser Dr Rebecca Nevin-Berger has spearheaded the Warm Safe Home project for the past year.

The project is encouraging people to decorate handcrafted paper houses with embellishments and words that describe what a warm, safe home means to them.

Registrations are essential for this free webinar. A limited number of places are available for people without internet to access the forum over the phone. To book, email Dr Becky Nevin-Berger or phone 03 5561 8111.

Rod Quantock podcast

Noted Melbourne comedian Rod Quantock will invite his audience to challenge ageist and sexist attitudes in a new podcast launched in conjunction with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Monday 15 June.

The podcast features the Commissioner for Senior Victorians, Gerard Mansour, SRV’s own Gary Ferguson and Michelle Lord, Elder Abuse Prevention Network Project Lead – Southern Melbourne Primary Care Partnership. You can listen to the podcast on Spotify or find out more information on Facebook.

What difference will the new Guardianship and Administration Act make?

The new Guardianship and Administration Act 2019, which came into effect on 1 March 2020, changes the way Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) appoints guardians and administrators for persons with diminished decision-making capacity.

The key changes include:

  • empowering VCAT to appoint supportive decision makers (for personal or financial matters) if the proposed represented person would benefit from assistance in making some types of decisions but they don’t actually need a substitute decision maker
  • VCAT and any appointed decision maker must take into account the ‘will and preferences’ of the represented person as far as practicable (rather than the best interests)
  • VCAT must take into account whether any orders for guardianship/administration will promote the personal and social wellbeing of the person
  • VCAT must consider whether decisions can be made in a less formal way (for example, by mediation)
  • VCAT must not exclude a proposed represented person’s relative as a guardian or administrator simply because that person disagrees with another relative of the person
  • the wishes of any person with a direct interest in the application must be considered (and relationships that are important to the represented person).

We thought it might be useful to highlight how the new Act might change outcomes for older people in a particular fact scenario in a case study below.

See – Case study Guardian and Administration Act

People attending a community education session in the Alpine Shire

Alpine Health Services drives elder abuse education

Alpine Health Services, formed in 1996, spans three sites at Myrtleford, Mount Beauty and Bright and is nestled in one of the most picturesque regions in Victoria. Home to some of Australia’s best wine-growing districts and snow country, including Dinner Plain, Falls Creek and Mount Buffalo National Park, the area covers 4,788 square kilometres. In autumn, the area is renowned for its striking autumn colours with many of the trees lining the roads taking centre stage.

The Alpine Shire is also home to an increasing ageing population with a third of the total population of about 12,000 people (2016 Census) is over 60. Growing older in the area doesn’t mean being idle. Many of the locals are involved in different activities and events, including hiking, volunteering and actively advocating for the rights of older people.

Services and the community reflect the increasing ageing population in their client base and participants. So it’s no wonder that as part of the Strengthening Hospitals Response to Family Violence Program, Alpine Health Services requested the assistance of Seniors Rights Victoria to deliver elder abuse professional education complemented with community education for seniors.

Seniors Rights Victoria has had a long association with Alpine Health, including the training of volunteers for the Alpine Aged Advocacy Service when it was first formed some years ago. Alpine Health has also hosted several community forums at which Seniors Rights Victoria presented on elder abuse and prevention.

Lisa Neville, the Health Promotion Officer at Alpine Health, was the dynamic force behind the latest request for elder abuse education. Lisa said her reason for requesting Seniors Rights Victoria to deliver the education was because ‘our staff will benefit from your vast experience, discussions and case studies’.

In February, there were three professional education sessions delivered, one at each of the sites, and two community education sessions. Evaluations indicated that as a result of the professional education staff’s knowledge and confidence in responding to elder abuse increased and seniors, who attended the forum, took away new information on planning ahead which they said they would use in future plans.

Please note: Our Community Education Coordinator, Gary Ferguson, has cancelled all community education sessions until the end of April.  We will review the situation after Easter and provide you with further information as soon as we can.

Picture of woman looking at a photograph

Case study – Guardian and Administration Act

Donna is 83. Her husband, Kevin, died three years ago. She owns her own home and a holiday house. She receives $90,000 a year from a superannuation fund. Donna worked as a secondary school teacher. In her retirement she has enjoyed activities including golf, bridge, lunch with friends, travel, and gardening.

Donna has two children, Travis and Christine. When Donna met her solicitor to settle Kevin’s estate she appointed Travis as her attorney for personal and financial matters and as her medical treatment decision maker.

Travis has lived with Donna for four years, since the end of his marriage. Christine is concerned that Donna gives Travis money. Her concern has grown as Donna is showing signs of dementia and Travis is taking financial advantage of her. 

Christine consults a lawyer about getting the enduring power of attorney (EPOA) revoked and for her to be appointed administrator instead.  She is not even sure if Donna had capacity to make the EPOA in the first place.  She also thinks that if a guardian is appointed then it will be possible to make a decision removing Travis from the house. This would make it easier for Christine to support Donna so that she can remain at home.

Possible outcomes for Donna under the Guardianship and Administration Act 1986

  • VCAT may decide that Donna lacks decision-making capacity to make decisions about whether Travis continues to live with her, and decides a guardian is needed because this is in the best interests of Donna (given the family is in some dispute and Christine has alleged that Travis is misusing Donna’s money).
  • VCAT may revoke the EPOA and decide that Donna needs an administrator. Travis and Christine are in dispute. Travis contends that Christine is self-interested and is not an appropriate person to make financial decisions for Donna. VCAT decides that State Trustees is the most appropriate appointment as administrator due to the family conflict.

Possible outcomes for Donna under the new Guardianship and Administration Act 2019

  • VCAT may decide that Donna lacks decision-making capacity to make decisions about whether Travis continues to live with her (although it appears she wants him to live with her). VCAT considers that it would not promote Donna’s personal and social wellbeing to appoint a guardian because decisions about Travis’s continued occupation with Donna might be made less formally, through mediation.
  • VCAT may revoke the EPOA and decide that Donna needs an administrator. They may consider that Christine is an appropriate administrator although Travis disagrees. He contends that Christine will promote her own self-interest and will not take his views into account.
  • Another possible outcome is that Donna may be appointed a supportive administrator for financial decisions. VCAT may revoke the existing EPOA to Travis, but determine that Donna could manage her finances with practicable and appropriate support. Christine is determined as an appropriate supportive administrator for Donna. In that role, Christine could visit Donna every Tuesday night, have dinner and go through household accounts together. It may be that in this role, Christine could follow up with the relevant recipient of a payment that Donna accidentally made twice in order to arrange reimbursement. Donna struggles with dealing with telephone customer service systems and would be grateful that Christine can do this for her.

See – What difference will the new Guardian and Administration Act make?