What is financial abuse?
The majority of older people live healthy, happy lives and enjoy positive and mutually supportive relationships with family, friends and neighbours. However, some older people may be exploited, taken advantage of or abused. In Ireland, elder abuse is defined as:
“A single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person or violates their human and civil rights” (Protecting our Future, 2002)
The main forms of elder abuse are physical, emotional or psychological, neglect or acts of omission, discriminatory, sexual, and financial or material abuse. These forms of abuse may be perpetrated as the result of deliberate intent, negligence or ignorance.
Elder financial abuse is understood by the NCPOP as the unauthorised and improper use of funds, property or any resources of an older person. This may include theft, coercion, fraud, misuse of power of attorney, and also not contributing to household costs where this was previously agreed.
Elder financial and/or material abuse was the most frequent form of elder abuse reported in a survey undertaken in 2010 by a research team in the NCPOP. This survey was undertaken with a nationally representative group of people aged 65 and over living in the community in Ireland. According to this survey, 1.3% of community-resident older people in Ireland had experienced some form of financial or material abuse in the previous 12 months. This translates to between 2,714 and 15,207 older people in the general population who have experienced some form of financial or material abuse (this figure is based on Census data from 2006).
It is generally agreed that financial and/or material abuse is underreported and is often very difficult to recognise or detect. This difficulty presents an onus on all older people to protect themselves from potential financial abuse and/or material exploitation before it ever occurs.