Spotting The Signs Of Financial Abuse Within The Care Sector
By David Jones, solicitor and Director at Hugh Jones (www.hughjonessolicitors.co.uk)
Financial abuse is one of the most common safeguarding challenges within the care sector. It has the power to devastate society’s most vulnerable and situations surrounding the issue can be extremely complex.
What’s more, it’s a growing issue – Hourglass – a charity that works to challenge and prevent the abuse of older people – saw a 73% rise in calls relating to financial abuse in 2022 compared to 2021. Financial abuse can happen to anyone of any age, but older people are particularly vulnerable, and the abuse often goes unreported.
Here, David Jones, director at Hugh Jones Solicitors, explains what constitutes financial abuse, how to spot early signs and what can be done to remedy a case of abuse.
What exactly is financial abuse?
Financial abuse takes many forms. As well as the obvious theft and fraud, it also includes unduly influencing someone to spend or gift money; threatening them or using someone else’s money inappropriately – such as misuse of benefits and direct payments, or not purchasing items for the protected party in a bid to preserve assets.
Who is most at risk of being affected by financial abuse?
Individuals lacking mental capacity such as dementia sufferers, those with severe learning difficulties, brain injuries and mental health illnesses are also among those most likely to be affected. There are several key risk factors that increase the likelihood of someone becoming a victim of this type of abuse. Unsurprisingly, risk increases with age and elderly people make up a significant proportion of victims within the UK, hence the growing issue within the care sector.
Sadly, the abuse tends to be at the hands of those closest to the victims and is often carried out by a friend or family member, particularly via a Deputyship Order or Power of Attorney, where a person has a legal authority to access your accounts. This is why it can be so difficult to identify and unravel abuse – and why it is so important, for those on the front line of working with the elderly and vulnerable, to constantly monitor for warning signs.
What are the signs to look out for?
Financial abuse can be subtle and is frequently hard to detect. Instinct often plays a huge part in uncovering a case, but there are some possible indicators to look closely for, such as:
• Transfer of property to family member or friend
• Unexplained withdrawals from an account – particularly when the victim is in a care home
• Regular transfers between accounts
• Money held in someone else’s name
• Changes to a will – particularly once an individual’s capacity becomes questionable
• Signatures on cheques that don’t match
• Unpaid bills or care home fees, especially when someone is appointed as Lasting Power of Attorney or Deputy
• Changes within a home, such as little furniture and fewer electronics or personal items
• An individual becoming isolated or diminishing in appearance.
The impact of financial abuse is far-reaching. As well as anxiety and fear, it can lead to withdrawal of the abused from vital services, concerns over their credibility and cognitive impairment.
Therefore, if any of these warning signs sound familiar and you suspect financial abuse, you should report the case to the police and, if it is a Deputy or Attorney that is suspected of financial abuse, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).
What steps would the OPG take when presented with concerns?
The OPG protects people in England and Wales who may not have the mental capacity to make certain decisions for themselves about their health and finance – it has a statutory duty to protect people who lack capacity from abuse.
Upon receiving a report, the OPG will investigate concerns and has the power to obtain bank statements for the protected party. If further steps are required, and if relevant, the OPG will then apply to the Court for suspension, discharge or replacement of the Deputy/Deputies and/or suspension of any existing Enduring or Lasting Power of Attorney. In many of these cases the Court will appoint a professional chosen by the OPG, known as a Panel Deputy, to replace the previous Deputy or Attorney.