The Financial Protections Service is aimed at providing independent financial information and advice with a particular focus on improving financial resilience. Service partners will also undertake screening and referral for financial abuse.
Below is the speech presented by Townsville Community Legal Service principal solicitor Bill Mitchell, co-designer of the service along with Caxton Legal Centre solicitor Melody Valentine, at the program’s launch on Friday 10 May 2019.
Welcome to the launch of the Seniors Financial Protections Service.
I acknowledge that we meet here today on the lands of Wulgurukaba and Bindal peoples and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
I acknowledge and welcome Minister O’Rourke, Minister for Communities, Disability Services and Seniors. I thank her for her unwavering support of our centre and the various programs she funds to protect the rights of older Queenslanders.
The Palaszczuk Government is doing many things to protect older persons’ interests. Older Queenslanders will benefit immensely from the Human Rights Act from next January.
Now or later, we are all older persons. We need to keep asking the question – what do we want for ourselves?
I acknowledge and welcome Member for Townsville Scott Stewart and Deputy Mayor Les Walker.
I acknowledge and welcome Katie Holm, Assistant Director-General, Department of Community Services Statewide, Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors.
I congratulate the Minister, Katie and the Department for being committed to the principle of co-design. This is where government and community begin with an idea and develop it together, as equals.
When it comes to protecting the rights of older Queenslanders, it is clear to us that community and government have simpatico interests that coalesce in a shared vision of service delivery.
Queensland has led the state and territories in a multi-agency response to elder abuse, by combining community interventions with strategic all-of-Government policy initiatives such as the WHO’s age-friendly strategy.
I acknowledge the project partners represented here today. Peter Lyons, CEO of Caxton Legal Centre. Caxton Legal Centre was co-designer of this package. Melody Valentine from Caxton and I shared the task of creating the service model.
Cybele Koenig and former Caxton director, now Human Rights Commissioner, Scott McDougall were instrumental in design and development of the project. I take this moment to acknowledge Caxton’s role as a pioneer in our community’s response to elder abuse in this state.
Much of what we see rolled out across the country owes a debt to Caxton’s early service models.
From that service experience, Caxton and Townsville built the Seniors Legal and Support Service – now accepted by the National Plan as a national model response to elder abuse.
The five Seniors legal and Support Services will deliver the Financial Protections Service in Cairns, Townsville, Hervey Bay, Toowoomba and Brisbane.
Also joining us today is Joanna Leszanki of Relationships Australia, and Lyndal Ferarri and Desley O’Brien of National Seniors Australia.
Relationships Australia will conduct the services in 5 sites: Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. They will deliver the service in conjunction with their existing Elder Abuse Prevention Services.
National Seniors Australia’s Financial Literacy Service will be available on referral from any of the 10 services sites. It will provide a full year membership to the referred older person. Our partnering with National Seniors is an important aspect of this service. It guarantees all referred older persons will receive timely, consistent and accurate information about their issues.
The outreach model is adaptable to the circumstances and setting of each site. Here in Townsville our intention is to use health precincts and local libraries as outreach venues. Others will develop their own outreach plan and service model based on our best practices.
Let’s just remind ourselves briefly about the problem we face.
Elder abuse is generally defined as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person” (WHO, 2016).
Financial abuse is the most prevalent form of elder abuse and it often co-occurs with other abusive behaviours such as psychological abuse, emotional abuse, undue influence and coercion. It affects almost 10% of older Queenslanders.
Financial abuse includes a range of behaviours committed for the purpose of monetary gain from an older person and arising in relationships of trust or close social network.
The recent Review into Prevalence and Characteristics of Elder Abuse in Queensland projects elder abuse to increase dramatically over the next decades. Based on rough population comparisons older Queenslanders affected by elder abuse will equal the entire population of Townsville by 2022 and the combined populations of Townsville, Cairns and Mt Isa by 2027.
Recent research on the importance of social supports as a preventative strategy found:
“Losing financial assets to exploitation is harmful for people at any age, but older adults are at a stage of life where recouping financial losses may be especially difficult. Additionally, FE takes a toll on older adults’ physical and psychological health, and increases risk for institutionalization, hospitalization, and mortality. Because FE is the result of complex interactions between the older adult and individuals in his/her life, no single risk factor explains why some older adults are more susceptible.” (Liu, 2017)
We now know that the principal risks associated with financial abuse include:
- Financial literacy and resilience
- Cognitive impairment and Financial capacity
- Socioemotional vulnerabilities
- History of trauma or past abuse
- Loss of functional capacity and functional dependency, such as loss of an activity of independent daily living
- Negative interactions within close social networks including family disharmony
- Absence of social supports, social isolation, loneliness and financial exclusion
- Perpetrator characteristics such as money problems, poor mental health, inheritance impatience, relationship breakdown, drug and alcohol use
We need to be cautious about thinking these factors are necessarily age-related – they are not.
Chronological age is an indicator of some but our life courses all differ. We can experience ageism and age-related discrimination from far earlier than what we consider older age.
Ageism is insidious and recent research indicates it may be more pervasive than sexism and racism.
Let’s talk now about the solution.
The Financial Protections Service combines three principal elements:
- A best practice model for creating and providing outreach services that assist to prevent financial abuse of older Queenslanders
- A comprehensive education package for financial professionals about financial abuse of older Queenslanders
- A roll out of a proactive outreach service in ten (10) sites across Queensland with a strong emphasis on services in regional Queensland.
Our research found that financial exclusion, financial literacy, financial resilience and financial abuse are linked.
In order to prevent financial abuse from occurring, we need to have conversations with people approaching retirement about key decisions. We have adapted best practice screening techniques to make sure we can have conversations that identify those at risk of financial abuse.
The service delivery model uses community-based outreach, screening and older-person-centered conversations, and referrals to prevent financial abuse
These conversations around decision making areas are essential to promote personal autonomy and agency.
The five (5) key decision-making areas include:
- Accommodation – aged care and home care
- Money Planning – budgeting and expense management and also loaning, gifting and guaranteeing
- Retirement planning – superannuation, equity release products, credit and loans in retirement
- Estate and advance care planning – wills, enduring documents and advance care plans
- Co-living – co-living and family agreements
Each of these key areas has carefully targeted with information and referral resources and pathways. Information will be provided to older persons directly at the site of outreach, and referrals will be made to one or more relevant services including National Seniors Australia’s Financial Literacy Service. Other referrals include to accountants, financial counsellors, relationship and mediation services and community lawyers.
Alongside the services will be a comprehensive continuing education package for financial professionals in for profit and non-profit sectors. We want financial services to stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.