What is Financial Abuse?
Abuse is when someone is being deliberately hurt by someone else. This could be one single act or something that takes place over a prolonged period of time. On hearing the term "abuse", something more physical comes to mind for many people, but financial abuse cannot be forgotten when it comes to the subject of safeguarding.
Financial abuse is the most commonly reported type of abuse that people may experience in later life. It accounts for over a half of elder abuse cases reported.
How is Financial Abuse Conducted?
There are a number of forms of financial abuse, but the basic definition is the illegal or improper exploitation or use of funds of a vulnerable individual.
Anyone can be a victim of abuse, but the vulnerable members of society that safeguarding focuses on are:
- Children: This counts as anyone under the age of 18
- Vulnerable adults: This is a person that, for any reason, is unable to take care of themselves or protect themselves from harm or exploitation
The victims of financial abuse often come in the form of vulnerable adults because they tend to be alone, socially isolated, and either physically or emotionally dependent on others. 130,000 people aged 65+ in the UK have suffered financial abuse at some point since turning 65.
The abuse occurs when the individual trusts someone with their finances once they reach a certain age; this could be a family member or an organisation. Financial abuse can take place when a family member or friend takes over financial decisions and controls the older adult's money. Financial neglect occurs if whoever controls the money, disregards the older adult's financial obligations or does not fulfil instructions given to them.
As well as this, women can be victims of financial abuse within the household. Women that have been victims of financial abuse say how their abusers would have control over the household finances, prevent them from working and earning money, and even force them to take out overdrafts and loans in their names which they then spent. In cases like this financial abuse falls under the category of domestic abuse.
Examples of Financial Abuse Include:
- Theft – Money, possessions, or property being stolen
- Fraud – Someone posing as you to benefit financially
- Pressure – This could be in connection with wills, property or inheritance, or financial transactions. It is also known as undue influence
Financial abuse can also mean the process of withholding your money or the unauthorised or improper use of someone's money or property, usually to the disadvantage of the person to whom it belongs.
Financial abuse has the potential to significantly threaten the health and well-being of an individual so needs to be taken very seriously.
In most cases of financial abuse, it is a matter for the police to investigate but it could also require attention from a wider group of organisations such as shops and financial institutions like banks.
Miss Buckley's Story
Insurers and lawyers have reported a rise in the number of clients with mental health problems who have had their bank accounts emptied by greedy relatives who were appointed as deputies and should have been acting in their best interests.
An 81-year-old woman living in a Kent care home is a recent victim of this trend. Miss Buckley lost an estimated £150,000 after she gave power over her finances to her 59-year-old niece.
The niece sold her aunt's house for £279,000 in 2011 and spent £72,000 of Miss Buckley's money on setting up a reptile breeding business. The niece claimed this was a business investment for her aunt but also admitted that she had used at least £7,650 of Miss Buckley's capital for her own benefit. At one stage, she was taking out cash sums of £300 daily.
The niece said she loved her aunt and visited her once a week, but this statement was contradicted by the nursing home Miss Buckley was staying in. They had records to prove she hadn't visited her aunt at all until 16 October 2012, and even then that was only because she had to sign a document.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said how cases like this one are "disturbing" and that "there must be a zero-tolerance approach to any abuse whether through neglect, financial manipulation or physical or mental cruelty".