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  • The older person seems fearful, worried or withdrawn.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.”

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?

Planning project continues with Dementia Australia

In 2020, using the second round of funding from the Department of Justice’s Integrated Services Fund, Seniors Rights Victoria will deliver talks to around 30 groups of older people around the importance of planning for the future.

Most of these presentations will be for people living with dementia and their carers and families, while others will be to people from particular culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups. The focus this year will be on working with people from Chinese, Greek and Vietnamese backgrounds.

We will continue to work closely with Dementia Australia, and are also strengthening our links with groups including Chinese Community Social Services Centre and the Indochinese Elderly Refugee Association.

The talks will highlight the importance of talking to people close to you about what your wishes are for the future. This includes wishes related to financial, personal and medical decisions. The talks will be delivered by advocates and lawyers from Seniors Rights Victoria.

In addition to highlighting the importance of ‘having the conversation’, information will be provided about the various avenues available to people who want to formalise their wishes in legal documents such as powers of attorney and advanced care directives. There will also be opportunities for attendees to make appointments to discuss their personal situation and make tailored powers of attorney.

To find out more about this project, please call Seniors Rights Victoria on 1300 368 821. Please note that we are considering how to run this project in light of the physical distance requirements imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Dementia Australia logo
Dementia Australia logo
Andelka Obradovic

Introducing Community Lawyer Andelka Obradovic

How long have you been with Seniors Rights Victoria?

Since 10 February 2020, so seven and a half weeks.

Have your impressions of SRV changed since you began?

I didn’t have any preconceptions. I anticipated it would have been a compassionate and proactive workplace in regards to the protection of seniors’ rights and that has been confirmed. I still have a lot to learn and feel very fortunate to be in a very supportive team. Despite still being a fairly junior lawyer I have found the transition to the new practice areas and workplace pretty seamless.

How long have you been a community lawyer ?

I have been a community lawyer for 14 months. Before that I had volunteered in community legal centres during and post studying law. My attraction to community law is the people that tend to work in this sphere and the difference we can make for vulnerable individuals. The people that tend to work in community law are compassionate and socially minded, which is the type of people I prefer to surround myself with.

Where did you work before coming to SRV?

Prior to coming to SRV I worked at Brimbank Melton Community Legal Centre as a locum community lawyer and prior to that I was at St Kilda Legal Services as the community outreach lawyer predominantly working with people affected by homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction. Prior to that I was at the Transport Accident Commission for 12 months which was my first job as a lawyer. I career transitioned to law almost two and half years ago after working as an occupational therapist for 20+ years.

How do you think you might influence good outcomes at SRV?

I hope to achieve good outcomes for vulnerable seniors who have difficulty standing up for themselves and that perpetrators of abuse may think are unlikely to stand up for themselves.
Even while working as an occupational therapist I found myself readily advocating for my older clients and clients with disabilities and their carers in situations where I felt their rights to make their own choices/decisions were being infringed upon. So much so that in August 2010, I wrote to SRV with five case examples of abuse. I got a lovely reply from Sue and Philippa who I understand managed to obtain some funding to provide community education with my case examples.

What’s the one thing about you that would surprise other people?

I took classical singing lessons on and off for about 10 years as an adult as I love opera and musical theatre. I’m not that great at it though, because I never practised enough.

Person signing a legal document

Power of Attorney register progresses

In early March, Seniors Rights Victoria’s Principal Lawyer, Rebecca Edwards, took part in in a consultation in Canberra about the establishment of a national register of powers of attorney (POA) .

The Council of Attorneys-General is moving to establish a register as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2017 Report on Elder Abuse.

All states and territories were represented at the consultation including state justice departments, public advocates, tribunals, banks, law societies, elder abuse legal centres like Seniors Rights Victoria, Councils on the Ageing, and older persons advocacy networks.

Concerns raised included:

  • That the current proposal only relates to enduring POAs financial. Many people felt that a register should cover both enduring and general POAs and both financial and personal POAs. It was also raised that the register should include guardianship and administration orders. If this did not happen, a tribunal could make an order overriding a POA. However, the register might indicate that the POA was still valid.
  • Would it be mandatory to register POAs before the register is introduced? This might impose a massive burden on solicitors. Would a POA that was valid when made potentially become invalid? Another related question was when registration would occur – when the POA is made, or when it becomes operational?
  • If the POA becomes operational on loss of capacity, how is that recorded? Seniors Rights Victoria is particularly concerned about this given that capacity can fluctuate.
  • Who would have access to the register and what would the balance be between transparency and privacy.
  • Would it be possible to notify the donor of the POA if the attorney’s appropriateness came into question. For example, in New South Wales if a person say Mr X, had their Working with Vulnerable person’s card revoked, would people that they have appointed Mr X as their attorney be notified?

It is clear that a register is not going to stop elder abuse, or abuse of powers of attorney. There was agreement that this was not a silver bullet for financial elder abuse. A good community education campaign should also accompany the establishment of the register in order to lower occurrences of breaches of the powers of attorney.

Conversation Seeds - training program for discussing elder abuse flyer

Conversation Seeds – training program

Are you an older adult in the Frankston or Mornington Peninsula area? Do you enjoy talking to people and want to make a difference in your community? Elder abuse is hidden in our community – you could help people understand it and talk about it. Join the Conversation Seeds training program to help you to find the words to start conversations and help others.

When

** Important date change **

The training program is held over two Wednesdays:

  • 11 March, 10 am – 1.30 pm
  • 18 March, 10 am – 1.30 pm

Where

Mornington Community Information and Support Centre,
320 Main Street, Mornington

Register and more information

Register online through Surveymonkey. For more information, contact Natasha Spicer on 0402 851 983 or nspicer@phcn.vic.gov.au.

Download a PDF (161 KB) of the flyer.

Picture of an man sitting down

Call for culturally appropriate material for older migrants

A Seniors Rights Victoria scoping project is calling for more culturally appropriate information about support services for older migrants who might be experiencing elder abuse.

Carmela Quimbo, a social work student on an extended placement at Seniors Rights Victoria, recently undertook a study into elder abuse and its relation to Contributory Parent visas. This topic was chosen because Seniors Rights Victoria’s casework team had been receiving more inquiries from older people living in Australia on Contributory Parent visas. Older people who migrate to Australia, often to assist with care for their grandchildren, may find themselves without access to Centrelink payments and health and social services if they are subject to elder abuse.

Contributory Parent visas usually require adult children to provide a legally binding agreement, called an Assurance of Support, to financially support their parent for up to 10 years.

The Assurance of Support means that if a person on a Parent Visa needs to access social security within the 10 years, this will ultimately be paid for by the adult child.

The scoping project interviewed service providers who told us that older migrants:

  • may not seek assistance due to different understandings of what constitutes abusive behaviour
  • may be less familiar with Australia’s social security system and other social services, which may be due to language and cultural differences
  • may be conflicted about reporting elder abuse due to loyalty to their children, a wish to avoid further deterioration of relationships, and the stigma around family breakdown.

Seniors Rights Victoria suggests that these barriers could be addressed by:

  • a linguistically and culturally appropriate information pack regarding services, specifically directed at older migrants on Parent visas
  • the provision of education and planning programmes for prospective older migrants and their families focusing on Australia’s social security system, financial protection and preparation for potential problems, especially family conflict
  • early intervention for family conflict, including, if suitable and available, mediation
  • Centrelink information sessions on the effects of Assurances of Support and eligibility for Special Benefit.
Picture of service providers at the launch of Concerned About an Older Person in Colac

Commissioner launches resource booklet

A booklet that provides practical steps to reduce elder abuse was launched recently by the Commissioner for Senior Victorians, Gerard Mansour.

More than 50 people attended the launch of Concerned About an Older Person in late November at the Colac Bowling Club.

The booklet will be distributed to people who call the Seniors Rights Victoria helpline. ‘Half the people who call the helpline are concerned about someone they know,’ said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.

‘A quarter of callers are service providers, and the rest are experiencing elder abuse from a family member or some other person who is close to them.

The booklet includes information on:

  • what is elder abuse
  • signs that someone may be experiencing elder abuse
  • what you can do if someone you know is experiencing elder abuse
  • preparing a plan to ensure the person is safe
  • answers to common questions, including if the older person does not want to involve services or the police
  • what to do if the person is from a diverse community including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTIQA+ or from a rural area.

To order copies of the booklet, contact info@seniorsrights.org.au or phone 9655 2129.
Download a digital copy (PDF, 2MB).