More vulnerable adults being ‘financially abused’, says York safeguarding chief

Buddy groups are forming in villages to tackle loneliness among the elderly.
Buddy groups are forming in villages to tackle loneliness among the elderly.
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The number of cases of financial abuse carried out against vulnerable adults by members of their own family is on the rise, according to the senior official who oversees safeguarding work in a Yorkshire city.

Kevin McAleese, Independent Chair, City of York Safeguarding Adults Board, said the rise in the number of victims whose funds are accessed without their consent was a “known phenomenon” and a trend that was likely to continue.

Kevin McAleese

Kevin McAleese

The number of alerts about vulnerable people considered to be at risk of abuse or neglect in York increased by a sixth last year, though the rise has been put down to increased awareness of available support services.

But Mr McAleese told a scrutiny meeting this week that he was concerned about the number of “vulnerable people at risk in their own homes, who are not on the council radar and never will be” because they are not entitled to council social care.

Currently anyone with more than £23,000 in assets, including their home, cannot get means-tested support, and York has a relatively high proportion of home-owning over-65s.

Mr McAleese said: “A real concern for me is the very vulnerable people in our community who do not receive social care services, and never will, because of the threshold, and purchase their domiciliary care and their personal care privately. That is a huge area of risk.

“The largest age group referred for being at risk are between 85 and 91, there are 61 of them, they are only three per cent of the population of York but they are disproportionately over-represented.

“The real worry is vulnerable people at risk in their own homes, who are not on the council radar and never will be. We need to raise the profile of risk. Things like the Dementia Friends and the Safe Places Project are a good start, but there is a lot more to do.”

City of York Council recorded 1,058 alerts about possible neglect or abuse of vulnerable people in 2014/15, a rise from the total in 912 the previous year and a continuation of a longer term trend.

Safeguarding officials in York the number of cases of alleged abuse and neglect are expected to rise as the city is part of a national pilot scheme giving people as much choice and control as possible over their care.

Other parts of North Yorkshire are seeing a similar increase, with the number of alerts received by the county council in 2013/14 totalling 2,819, nearly double the number in 2009.

As a result of the 1.058 alerts last year, the council says 294 adults at risk were referred so that further enquiries could be carried out into alleged abuse. The council took action in 255 cases, and in 233 of those the risk was reduced or removed.

A total of 92 allegations of abuse were substantiated in 2014/15, compared to 70 during the previous 12 months.

Of the cases where action was taken, 174 relate to people aged 65 and over and 116 related to under-65s. The victims of alleged abuse were more likely to be female than male.

The most common reason for an investigation was neglect, those many were also subjected to financial, physical or emotional abuse.

Sixty-eight of the cases where the council took action relate to financial and material abuse, where property and funds are obtained without the victim’s knowledge or consent.

Mr McAleese told the scrutiny meeting this week: “Financial and material abuse is on the increase, and particularly, it is perpetrated by family members. It is a known phenomenon within safeguarding.”

Adding that he expected the trend to continue, he told councillors: “If I can give you a case, a 90-year-old former paratrooper in a care home has two visitors, his son and his daughter, who are rifling through his bank account but are his only visitors, so the dilemna is how do you deal with that without making him more isolated?”

Mr McAleese said in a statement: “Protecting vulnerable adults from abuse or neglect is a key priority for the city.

“We need to ensure that key agencies can respond effectively and appropriately if there are concerns that someone might be at risk.

“The increasing number of referrals in the last year indicates that residents, carers and professionals are aware of the safeguarding process and the support available.”