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The financial abuse of vulnerable members of society is a widespread problem which we often have to deal with in our role as professional deputies. It is a problem which is often misunderstood and/or overlooked by the professionals and the institutions who should be protecting the vulnerable.
‘Financial or material abuse, including theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.’ (DH/Home Office, 2000)
‘No Secrets’ is the English guidance to local authorities on safeguarding, and it identifies financial or material abuse as including a range of activities, which are listed below with examples of how they might manifest in practice.
- Theft – either physically, or through transfer of funds from the vulnerable person
- Misappropriation or misuse of money or property – for example, improper use of money or assets when handling it for a vulnerable person under informal arrangements
- Exerting undue influence to give away assets or gifts – this can include placing inappropriate pressure on a vulnerable person to change their will, or make gifts they otherwise would not or signing over the family home to one relative when the older person is about to go into residential care
- Putting undue pressure on the older person to accept lower-cost/lower-quality services in order to preserve more financial resources to be passed to beneficiaries on death
- Carrying out unnecessary work and/or overcharging – for example, tradesmen advising repairs for non-existent problems to property, or offering a service such as will writing accompanied by pressure selling, work for which is overcharged, and/or charged in advance
- Misuse of older persons’ assets by professionals – for example, by accountants or legal professionals with access to client funds
- Misuse of enduring/lasting powers of attorney – use other than as intended or further than as limited by the document
- Misuse of welfare benefits by appointees appointed to manage such benefits on behalf of a person lacking capacity to manage them
- Misuse of Direct Payments by paid carers or family members instead of using the money for the benefit of the recipient
- Salesmen encouraging certain people with learning disabilities who may lack capacity for their finances to enter into contracts or changing suppliers (for example for mobile phone services) when they do not understand their contractual responsibilities. This can also arise with older people, who may have limited capability to understand such contracts
- Apparent theft or loss of possessions, for example in contexts such as hospitals or care homes, or where people have carers at home. Assumptions that a person is fully protected once in these contexts should be avoided, as they can remain vulnerable to any of the above forms of abuse.