New figures have sparked concerns that the number of elderly Aussies being ripped off by their adult children looking to cash in early on their inheritance could be on the rise, with one advocacy group reporting a considerable spike in the number of calls to its hotline in recent months.
Not-for-profit agency Advocare, based in Western Australia, experienced a large increase in the number of calls to its elder abuse helpline over the past two months, after they received more than 200 calls, twice the amount received over the same period in 2017.
Of those calls received in September and October, one third (29.8 per cent) related to financial abuse – defined as illegal or improper use of an older person’s finances or assets. A similar percentage related to psychological abuse (31.6%) which is described as “inflicting mental anguish, fear, or feelings of shame and powerlessness” either verbally or non-verbally. While 20 per cent of calls referenced social abuse, 11 per cent complained of neglect and 8 per cent reported physical abuse.
Chief Executive of Advocare Diedre Timms told Starts at 60 that she believes we are just “seeing the tip of the iceberg” with the calls they receive, crediting the spike to the increased visibility of elder abuse cases due to coverage in the media, following the announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that there would be a royal commission into the sector.
The recent figures also support those published in the agency’s annual report, which showed a total of 654 calls made to the Elder Abuse Helpline between 2017-18, with a whopping 410 of those cases involving financial abuse.
Many older Aussies suffer more than one type of abuse at any given time though, with adult children most commonly named as the alleged abuser. The second most common type of abuse reported was psychological (354), followed by social (177) and neglect (130). A small number of those who sought help from Advocare suffered physical abuse (88) and an even smaller number called for advice and support after falling victim to sexual abuse (5).
The topic was also debated on Channel Seven’s breakfast show Sunrise on Monday with host Sam Armytage debating the issue with journalists Ben Davis and Tory Shepherd, who said: “I’ve followed a couple of inquiries into elder abuse and it does seem to be the common theme that it’s people middle-aged, maybe with their own kids, want to get their own house and they’re looking at their parents in their nice house and thinking ‘I don’t want to wait around until I inherit that, I want it now’.
“It’s horrible. You always think who are these people? There can’t be that many people around? And then you see the stats and you realise it’s so much more common than you think.”
In June last year the Australian Law Reform Commission made 43 recommendations on the issue of elder abuse, such as training bank tellers to identify signs of elder abuse and aligning state and federal laws to better combat the issue.
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