People who commit financial elder abuse in the ACT could face jail time of up to three years, as part of new laws coming into effect today covering abuse against vulnerable people.
Leading law firm Maurice Blackburn said with elder abuse on the rise due to the ageing population, the new laws were an important safeguard for vulnerable older people.
Principal lawyer Andrew Simpson said the laws were an Australian first, and the threat of time behind bars would deter potential offenders, most often children of ageing parents.
“The ACT Government is to be commended for these new laws that mean perpetrators will no longer be able to get away with pressuring their elderly mum into signing over her life savings, or changing her will for their benefit – something we sadly see too often,” he said.
“The ACT’s initiative in introducing a specific crime of elder abuse gives victims and anyone with concerns about possible abuse the confidence to report it to police for investigation.”
Mr Simpson said it was important the ACT Government ensure police and the courts continue to have the resources to properly implement the new laws.
The Crimes (Offences Against Vulnerable People) Legislation Amendment Act introduces new offences for the abuse of vulnerable people that results in harm or a financial benefit.
The legislation, which passed the ACT Parliament last year, also criminalises neglect of a vulnerable person, and the failure to protect a vulnerable person from a criminal offence.
The new laws protect vulnerable people in care within institutions and at home – an important acknowledgement that much elder abuse occurs at the hands of a family member.
A vulnerable person is defined as an adult with a disability or a person aged 60 years and above with an intellectual impairment or experiencing social isolation.
Mr Simpson called on all states and territories to follow the ACT’s lead and consider making elder abuse a crime.
“People are living longer, while deaths from dementia are increasing. This means significant wealth can be tied up for longer in the hands of increasingly vulnerable people.
“Meanwhile, inheritance impatience is sadly on the rise in many cases, as the next generation is forced to wait longer to access their parents’ assets.”
Mr Simpson said the most common types of elder abuse are financial and psychological abuse, and it is most often perpetrated by adult sons against their elderly mums.
It is estimated between 2% and 14% of older Australians experience elder abuse each year.