The nation’s bankers are calling on the states and territories to urgently improve measures to prevent financial abuse of vulnerable, elderly Australians.
Federal, state and territory attorneys-general are meeting in Perth today to discuss a range of measures, including bolstering the nation’s protections against elder abuse.
One of the key proposals is for a national register of enduring powers of attorney, so staff in organisations such as banks can check their validity.
Enduring powers of attorney are legal authorisations that give permission to an elderly person’s relative, friend, or carer to act on their behalf, including withdrawing or transferring money.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) called for a national register to be created in late 2016, and money was set aside in this year’s federal budget to establish the scheme.
The Australian Banking Association (ABA) said such a register would greatly benefit staff in bank branches across the nation.
“Banking staff are often right at the frontline of this terrible problem, it’s bank staff who see unusual withdrawals from accounts, that see older people being pressured in branches to sign documents and make withdrawals for somebody else,” ABA chief executive Anna Bligh said.
“Staff have told me stories about very large withdrawals going out of an old person’s account being used for gambling and overseas holidays when they know that person is in fact in a nursing home, confined to home and not using those funds for themselves.”
Ms Bligh said inheritance impatience was one example of the abuse — when adult children access their parents’ money illegally.
Wendy Lacey from the University of South Australia School of Law is one of the nation’s leading experts in elder abuse, and said financial exploitation was the most common way elderly Australians were being harmed.
“[It’s] most frequently perpetrated by the children or carers of victims,” Professor Lacey told the ABC.
“One of the most common instruments for committing financial abuse is the misuse or abuse of powers of attorney.
“A national register is definitely needed; it would ensure that multiple powers of attorney are identified and addressed and will ensure that interstate issues are confronted.”
A number of states and territories said they were working to improve measures to protect elderly Australians.
“Victoria supports the development of the national plan on elder abuse and welcomes Federal Government funding to combatting elder abuse,” a spokesperson for the Victorian Government told the ABC.
“We also support further work being done on the establishment of a national register, and we will continue to work with the Federal Government and other states and territories to develop the concept.”