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Lawyers welcome national response to end elder financial abuse

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Leading elder abuse lawyers have welcomed the Australian Law Reform Commission's report of the inquiry into 'Protecting the Rights of Older Australians from Abuse’ as a positive step towards abolishing elder abuse for Australia's aging population.

The report, commissioned in response to the rise of elder financial abuse, was launched by the Federal Attorney-General at the 2017 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Forum in Melbourne last week.

In an effort to establish a national plan against elder abuse, the report was drafted in consultation with state and territories to ensure there are appropriate laws and legal frameworks in place to safeguard and protect older people from abuse and to assist them in obtaining compensation where financial abuse has occurred.

Slater and Gordon Senior Associate Jessica Latimer said the Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response report is an important first step in combatting elder financial abuse but there is still some work to be done.

“Instances of elder financial abuse are becoming more prevalent as significant portions of Australia‟s population become older and peoples‟ individual wealth continues to grow with the increase in property prices and compulsory superannuation,” Ms Latimer said.

“Now more than ever there needs to be a national approach to ensure legal frameworks are providing appropriate protections and safeguards for older Australians.

“While we welcome the broadening of state tribunals‟ jurisdiction to determine complex property and family disputes, we are concerned that the nature of those types of dispute can be factually and legally complex and will likely require legal assistance and representation.

"The discretion of the tribunal to award costs in such matters should be further considered. In our experience, we have found that it is unlikely for older people or their family members to have the confidence or ability to issue and run these types of disputes without legal assistance.”

Ms Latimer said while it is paramount for our laws to protect the rights of older Australians, everyone has a role to play in stopping elder financial abuse it its tracks.

“Identifying financial elder abuse can be difficult, particularly when you don‟t know what you are looking for,” she said.

“Moreover, no two instances of elder abuse are the same and there are often emotional and financial barriers stopping elderly people from exercising their rights.

“This is why preventative measures such as public awareness and training are so important. In order to stop elder abuse once and for all we must establish a community based approach to identifying the signs and to prescribe the help and support necessary.

“I commend the Government for taking significant steps to put the rights of elderly Australians on the national Agenda and encourage all Australians to keep the conversation going about elder abuse.”