Cuckoo in the nest – tackling financial abuse of the elderly

Matthew Morton, Senior Associate at Leeds law firm Lupton Fawcett.
Matthew Morton, Senior Associate at Leeds law firm Lupton Fawcett.

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with Lupton Fawcett

Solicitors have recently noted a large increase in reports of financial abuse against the elderly.

Financial abuse occurs where a person has lost capacity to make decisions about their finances and someone abuses a position of trust to access the victim’s funds. Often that abuse can be at the hands of the victim’s family.

Often the victim of the abuse does not know that the funds are being taken or in some circumstances they no longer retain the capacity to decide whether it is in their best interests to decide whether a request for funds should be agreed to.

The statistics and general observations

The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) recently released a report confirming the number of applications brought relating to suspected financial abuse. The figures indicates that the number of cases pursued by them has risen 143 per cent since 2012 but many commentators accept that this is the tip of the iceberg and the true scale of the problem is likely to be much higher.

An independent report prepared by a senior Judge revealed that in 40 per cent of cases the abuse is perpetrated by the victim’s son and in 26 per cent of cases the abuse is perpetrated by the victim’s daughter.

In the random sample taken, 70 per cent of the victims were female and 30 per cent of the victims were male. This compared with 61 per cent and 39 per cent respectively in the overall population for the same sample size. This may suggests that women may suffer a higher proportion of financial crimes than men.

Remedies

So what can be done if you suspect a relative or friend is susceptible to financial abuse? In cases where financial abuse is suspected you could apply to have a Deputy appointed if the victim has lost capacity to manage their own finances. Once the Deputy is appointed they would be empowered to investigate the Patient’s accounts and can take action to ensure that the Patient’s funds are not open to abuse.

If evidence of historical abuse is discovered then a Deputy can conduct an investigation to see who has taken any funds. More importantly the appointment of a Deputy should stop any further abuse of the victim’s accounts as they would take control over the access to victim’s funds. If there is strong evidence of any money being taken then an application can be made to Court in order to sanction the Deputy to investigate and if necessary to take legal action to recover any money that has been taken from the victim.

During 2013 over 14,000 Deputies were appointed in England and Wales. The total number of Deputy Appointments has increased 9%, on the preceding year. If financial abuse is suspected it is essential that you obtain legal advice as soon as possible so that swift and decisive action can be taken to ensure that any remaining funds are protected and so that any funds that have been taken can be recovered.

• Lupton Fawcett has one of the largest specialist departments outside of London dealing with claims of financial abuse against the elderly and can ensure that you receive the right advice from the outset.

For further help or advice, please contact specialist Senior Associate Matthew Morton on 0113 280 2116 or matthew.morton@luptonfawcett.law