Essex Community Foundation

Financial Abuse of the Elderly

This story was featured in the Your Life supplement produced by the Newquest media group.  To view and read the article click here.

CRIMES against older people are always abhorrent and an alarming increase has been reported in the number of people in this age group suffering financial abuse.

An Essex-based organisation has seen a 40 per cent rise in such cases. Now it is looking to take on extra staff to help deal with the growing problem of older people being conned out of money by individuals they regarded as “friends” or carers and, in some cases, even being exploited by members of their own family.

Support for organisations tackling these issues is being given ECF through its grants distribution programme, including awards from the High Sheriffs’ Fund, which helps promote community safety.

Among the organisations and projects supported by ECF are SEEAFOP (South East Essex Advocacy for Older People) and a Crucial Crew scheme for older people, run by Tendring Community Safety Partnership.

SEEAFOP is a small independent charity. It has been established for 20 years and their aim is to act as advocates for elderly people in the Southend-on-Sea community who experience financial and/or social difficulties in their lives and need someone to work on their behalf to access services and benefits and help to safeguard them. 

The problems dealt with include isolation, loneliness, vulnerability and emotional/financial abuse. SEEAFOP provides free independent and confidential representation, information and support. There are 8 paid part time staff and around 10 volunteers.

Ann Davenport, director of SEEAFOP says that over the past year there has been a 40 per cent increase in cases of financial abuse of older people and in many cases they are being exploited by people they thought they could trust, such as “friends,” carers or even family members.

In September 2014 SEEAFOP was awarded £10k by Comic Relief to help victims of financial abuse. The debt and finance advocate with SEEAFOP acts on behalf of clients who have suffered financial abuse by stopping the perpetrator having access to their funds and on some occasions challenging Power of Attorney.

The grant has helped her so far to work on six cases involving a total of £193,900 of which £16,300 has been recovered. The advocate is called by the police or social services who might suspect wrong-doing and she investigates the situation and reports back to them for action to be taken.

She has also had a call from a local bank manager about an elderly lady withdrawing cash on a regular basis and handing it to people waiting outside for her.  The advocacy is hoping to speak to every bank branch manager in the area to inform them of the service offered and to make their staff aware of the financial abuse of the elderly.

Norma is a client known to SEEAFOP for many years. She is a widow in her 70s with learning difficulties, a lovely lady living in well-appointed sheltered accommodation. She has been financially abused by a “friend” whom she described as her “handyman” who helped her with her weekly shopping. He regularly made £100 withdrawals from her bank account on her behalf, but would also withdraw £100 for himself on a regular basis, taking a total of £3,000. It was when the advocate from SEEAFOP was visiting on another matter that Norma asked her to look at her bank statement. Norma had difficulty understanding the statement, but thought she should have more money than the amount shown. Eventually, with extensive help from and detective work by the advocate the matter was taken up by the police and Norma’s “friend” was taken to court, where he offered to pay back some of the money and accepted a “caution”.

Due to the increase in financial abuse reported to SEEAFOP they are currently seeking funding for an extra advocate to help deal with these cases.

Tendring Older Persons Crucial Crew

A project initially aimed at youngsters to help ensure their personal safety and health has been adapted for older people to help make them safer in their homes and in the community.

Tendring Community Safety Partnership’s successful Crucial Crew scheme, originally for primary school children, has branched out with a version specifically catering for older people in the 60 plus age bracket.

The first ever Older Persons Crucial Crew event was held in 2013 and the concept has been developed, leading to a massively positive response to a second event in 2014. Now plans are under way for this year’s event at The Princes Theatre in Clacton (check date)

Like the junior version, the Older Persons Crucial Crew is a multi-agency operation involving Tendring District Council, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, Trading Standards, Community Voluntary Services Tendring, Essex Police and Essex Carers Support.

Organisations involving older people are invited to the Crucial Crew event and topics covered include personal safety, rogue traders, what to do with callers at the door, fire safety and emergency planning for floods, cold weather and hot weather.

“The aim is to highlight potential dangers faced in everyday life and share vital safety messages which could help save lives,” said Leanne Thornton, community safety manager at Tendring  District Council.

“Most of the older people who attend Crucial Crew belong to a group, club or organisation and they take back and pass on the messages they have learned from the event.

“It all helps to make older people feel safe and secure in their homes and communities.

We involve young people from a local school to help the older people with new technology and show them how iPads could be useful.”