Charlie Weston: We all need to be on our guard to stamp out sinister financial abuse of the vulnerable
It is very difficult to get a handle on the extent of financial abuse of the vulnerable. But we do know that it is quite prevalent and it is on the rise. It has got to be one of the most sinister and sneaky crimes and is very difficult to root out.
The HSE National Safeguarding Committee said recently figures it had gathered show there were 1,645 cases of alleged financial abuse of the vulnerable between the start of last year and this summer.
There was a 44pc rise in cases in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year. But it warned that this was likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
More than €700m is being stolen from vulnerable people a year, said the chairwoman of the National Safeguarding Committee, Patricia Rickard Clarke.
Many of the victims are vulnerable people living with dementia, mental health problems and physical or mental health disabilities. Typically, they are older people who are deceived by a calculating close relative.
A survey carried out by Red C for the HSE Safeguard Committee found that half of adults say they have experienced the abuse of vulnerable adults. This was either because they were abused themselves or saw somebody close to them being abused.
Two in five people think vulnerable adults are badly treated. And a third of people believe vulnerable adult abuse to be widespread.
Rickard Clarke warned that those appointed as agents on behalf of vulnerable people must ensure that all of the person's money is managed directly for their benefit, and for that purpose only.
Financial abuse can also occur when family members assume control of a vulnerable person's finances. This happens when they are added as a joint account holder, or use their the other person's bank card.
Once access to the person's finances are signed to an agent there is often no tracking of how that money is spent, or who benefits.
Rickard Clarke, a solicitor and former commissioner of the Law Reform Commission, said financial abuse can be highly calculated or very subtle. She said it can involve quietly spending a portion of a person's pension as a perceived 'reward' for helping with their care, or occasionally keeping change to cover personal expenses.
Legislation is being drafted to remove ambiguities and make it clear that any use of money, which is not clearly for the direct benefit of the vulnerable person or with their consent, is not acceptable.
It is not before time. Those close to the vulnerable need to watch out for instances of financial abuse and report them.
Sunday Indo Business