Queensland Public Guardian meets with banks to encourage reporting of financial abuse against vulnerable Queenslanders to her office
The Queensland Public Guardian, Natalie Siegel-Brown, this week met with representatives of Australia’s biggest banks asking for their cooperation in referring financial abuse of older people to her Office.
Ms Siegel-Brown highlighted the unique and extensive powers her office has to investigate allegations of all types of abuse against Queenslanders with impaired decision making capacity, and the role banks can play in identifying and reporting this abuse.
The investigations function of the Queensland Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) is the only one of its kind in Australia, and to the best of our knowledge, the world. What makes it unique is the Public Guardian’s power to both investigate allegation of neglect, exploitation and abuse (including financial abuse), and to take action where these allegations are substantiated.
“Approximately 80 percent of the investigations my office opens relate to people aged 65 or over. With an ever-aging population and a growing prevalence of dementia, instances of elder abuse are likely to keep increasing. That’s why it’s so important we increase education around the powers of my office to those institutions that can play such an important role as the first line of defence.”
Over 70 percent of investigations carried out by OPG involve concerns around the conduct of a person acting in the role of financial decision maker, and this is almost always the adult son or daughter of the adult with impaired capacity.
Queensland Public Guardian Natalie Siegel-Brown said: “Banks are often first-hand, early witnesses to the suspicious and out of character transactions that are an indicator of financial abuse, and we need them to report these to us.
The OPG has forged successful relationships with some Queensland based banks that has resulted in a number of cases of elder abuse being identified and appropriate action being taken to protect the adult from wide ranging abuse, based purely on their report of financial abuse.
“Behind financial abuse we often discover so many other types of more insidious abuse. When a bank refers suspicions of elder abuse to my Office we too often uncover physical abuse and neglect. This shows how important a bank’s referral to me can be in stopping so many other forms of abuse – especially where there is no one else in a person’s life.”
The goal of today’s meeting was raise awareness of the functions of the OPG to those banks who may not even have known they should be protecting their vulnerable Queensland customers by reporting suspected abuse to OPG.
“I believe it is vitally important that banks understand the change they can make to a person’s human rights purely by reporting suspicions to my Office, Ms Sigel-Brown said.
“By reporting these suspicions, my Office can take action that can not only help prevent an adult from losing their life savings and potentially falling into destitution, but in some cases mean we rescue them from truly horrific circumstances,” she said.
Under legislation, the action the Public Guardian can take in cases of suspected abuse neglect and exploitation of a person with impaired decision-making capacity includes suspending a Power of Attorney immediately and inserting herself as attorney for personal and health matters (and the Public Trustee for financial affairs), for up to 3 months. It also includes being able to cross-examine the accused person in certain instances – and importantly, to execute a warrant to remove a person who is at immediate risk of harm.
Anyone is able to report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult with impaired decision making capacity to the Public Guardian by calling 1300 653 187.
Office of the Public Guardian media contact: (07) 3006 2589 or firstname.lastname@example.org