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Federal government ignoring elder abuse crisis, lawyer says

Federal government ignoring elder abuse crisis, lawyer says

Old woman

A Queensland lawyer has called on federal politicians to follow the lead of the Queensland government in combating elder abuse.

Bennett & Philp Lawyers senior associate Charlie Young, who specialises in elder law, praised the Queensland government’s introduction of the Guardianship and Administration and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 earlier this month.

The bill proposes new laws to protect the elderly from financial abuse. These include tougher sanctions for guardians, administrators or people holding power of attorney who financially abuse the elderly, according to a statement from Bennett & Philp.

Mr Young endorsed the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s investigation into elder abuse, delivered earlier this year, but said the report has received little attention at the federal level.

The recommendations included the establishment of a national online register for enduring power of attorney documents, legislative changes to increase accountability of aged care providers when elder abuse occurs, and improved guidelines for banks to report suspicious transactions.

“We need a formal register of all valid EPAs [enduring powers of attorney], because it can be difficult for anyone to know, without speaking to the person who created it, whether a particular EPA is current or has been replaced or cancelled,” Mr Young said.

“A person with a signed EPA can turn up at the bank and access the accounts of the person who gave the power of attorney. The banks don’t know which EPAs are current or not, so they have no way to determine whether an EPA is still valid.

“Abuses of the enduring power of attorney system are just one example of the growing crisis in elder abuse throughout Australia.”

Mr Young’s comments came as Australia’s independent Aged Care Complaints Commissioner announced that there had been a significant spike in elder abuse complaints.

The commissioner’s 2016-17 report revealed a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of complaints, totalling 4,713.

“I don’t think the rise in complaints shows deteriorating standards of care,” Commissioner Rae Lamb said in a statement yesterday.

“Certainly, we see instances where care has been very poor, and there are still people who should complain who don’t. Nonetheless, the number of complaints has to be balanced against the fact that more than one million people receive aged care.”

Federal minister for aged care Ken Wyatt said he welcomed the news that more people were receiving assistance, although in a perfect world the service would not be necessary.

“We are committed to accountability because every older Australian who needs aged care support deserves a quality service that is safe and meets their individual requirements,” he said.

The report showed that the commissioner resolved 75 per cent of complaints within 30 days.

“Consumers and advocates can have confidence in the impartiality and independence of the commissioner,” Mr Wyatt said.

“If you have a problem and talking to the aged care service hasn’t resolved the issue, the Complaints Commissioner is there to make sure your concerns are dealt with fairly and in a timely fashion.”

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