Lawyers issue stark warning to carers

Whether it is an elderly parent, relative, friend or even neighbour, many of us at some point will provide some degree of care on behalf of another. It’s a duty that most would perform without second thought however there are also thousands of people who are employed as carers throughout the UK.

In recent years there has been a significant rise in the number of reported cases of financial abuse of elderly victims leading to an increase in the number of court cases whereby carers or those granted power of attorney, have been convicted of fraudulently spending their relative’s or friend’s money improperly.

It was reported in 2015 that around 103,000 calls were made to adult protection helplines with over 26,000 of those callers reporting financial abuse. The vast majority of calls made were relating to elderly people or those with limited mental capacity.

Fraud against the elderly has become such an issue that in July 2015, the Government responded to the reported rise in the theft and defrauding of vulnerable individuals and gave legal definition through the Care Act; creating a policy which is designed to protect those persons who are not able to look after themselves properly.

The Ministry of Justice issued strict guidelines and which apply to anyone assisting or helping someone else with their finances. Whether a person is an appointed attorney, a court appointed deputy, or just informally looking after someone, the rules remain the same.

The carer must always ensure all financial choices are in the individual’s best interests and do everything possible to help them understand any decisions made. If the carer was investing money on behalf of a person, they would have to ensure that person had an understanding of the basic premise. If it became apparent that someone who was lacking in mental capacity, for example, from losing their memory as a result of dementia, then the carer must help them come to their own decision and take all possible practical steps to do this.

Reported in a recent case, a carer’s relatives complained about annual gifts of £10,000 being given to grandchildren. Although the carer argued it’s what the elderly relative “would have wanted”, as there was no history of such financial gifts being given, the money had to be returned. If a person wished to make gifts then the carer must first gain permission by obtaining a Court Order.

Carers must also not profit from any decision they have made on behalf of another, including assisting with making a will for a person or helping someone change their existing will. Additionally the rules are very clear so they must not hold monies or property on behalf of another and when carrying out simple tasks such as food shopping or paying utility bills, monies should always remain separate.

Gary Fitzgerald, a Director at Action Against Elders Abuse, a charity set up to protect older people, suggested more elderly people are being groomed for financial abuse as he has seen a recent spike in calls from families who have discovered their relatives have appointed attorneys without informing them first.

Casual carers and family members can put in place an arrangement known as a “third party mandate”. This is an instruction to a person’s bank to provide access to their account for another person such as a carer. The mandate can specify exactly what authority is being given to that person so the amount of access can be indicated. They are not usually given a card and PIN so will not be able to access cash via ATM machines. However, if a person is found to have mental incapacity then the arrangement is immediately void.

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