Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Financial Elder Abuse - A case history.

The following case study focuses on the repeated ‘Financial abuse’ of an elderly woman.

A definition of financial abuse:

 ‘Stealing from, defrauding someone of, or coercing someone to part with goods and or property.’ (Action on Elder Abuse.)

Case Study  Mary

Mary is now 88 years old and lives alone. She has a variety of medical conditions that reduce her ability to mobilize without the aid of a wheeled trolley. She also suffers from severe hearing loss. This has the added effect of causing further social isolation. She refuses to attend any of the available Day Centres, as she feels unable to communicate or join in conversations.

Whilst Mary tries to maintain as much independence as possible, she does have a visit from private carers twice a day. In addition to the carers, she also relies heavily on her next-door neighbours who have acted as her advocates on many occasions over the last eight years.

Her dependence on them has increased as her health and mobility issues have exacerbated.
The first instance of financial abuse followed the death of her brother, eight years ago. 

Having lived a reclusive lifestyle with her brother for many years, Mary’s world was shattered one winter when her brother collapsed at home. Unable to get him up by herself, and the only neighbour they would talk to away, Mary eventually called the ambulance service, two days after her brother’s collapse.

Being concerned with the state of the house and both occupants, the crew took both Mary and her brother to the hospital. Her brother was admitted, however, following reports from the Ambulance crew, the living conditions at the bungalow were deemed unsuitable for Mary to return. With her brother unconscious, the only other relative was her estranged nephew.

The police contacted him. As the only other living relative, it was his responsibility to help sort Mary’s accommodation out. Having had no contact for over 17 years due to an acrimonious family split, he told social services to put Mary in a home.

Within two days of being in the care home, Mary’s brother had died. Despite repeatedly asking to go and see him in the hospital, her nephew refused. He did concede and take her to the funeral. Her neighbours also attended. She told them that she wanted to go home, but the nephew said that she couldn’t whilst the house was a health hazard.

During the following 12 months, Mary remained a resident at the care home. Her nephew committed probate fraud, acquired ownership of her car and gave it to his daughter, gutted the property, throwing all personal belongings into a skip, renovated the bungalow in an unsuitable manner for a disabled person to return to. 

He insisted that Mary sign cheques for things she didn’t understand and cleared out her brother’s savings and accounts. He also refused to take her back to the house or to let her see a solicitor. Mary also reports that jewellery and a large sum of money were removed from the house.

It was only following the intervention of her neighbours following a very emotional plea from Mary, that she was finally able to go home. She appointed a solicitor to investigate what had happened to her late brother’s estate and demand the return of all monies due. 

She had the added expense of setting up a home from scratch, cutlery, crockery, bedding, a bed, furniture etc.

The Nephew has not made contact since Mary went home and Mary has no wish to make contact herself.

Since then, on two separate occasions, money was removed from her handbag, and two of her carers were involved. 

Mary’s neighbours help Mary to manage her finances. They make sure that she has enough money to cover her weekly shopping, hairdresser, expenses etc. stealing money from her bag. 

Her neighbours noticed that Mary was needing money more frequently. Acting on their suspicions, they set up some CCTV, marked the notes, counted the money before and after each carers visit and recorded the culprits on DVD. 

On both occasions, the police were called and the DVD’s admitted as evidence. Despite being caught on camera, the Magistrates dealt far too leniently with both perpetrators. The first carer was ordered to pay a £200 fine plus court costs and 200 hours community service, of which he has paid £50 in the last four years. The second carer was ordered to pay £20, the sum that she was seen on camera taking.

The woman who did her weekly cleaning and shopping committed another instance of financial abuse. She was supposed to provide an hour of cleaning per week, but was rarely on the premises for longer than 30 minutes. In relation to the shopping, it became apparent that she was also adding the club card points onto her own card. A very nice little Christmas bonus!

As a result, Mary’s neighbours now carry out all the shopping, cleaning and cooking. She still has a carer twice a day, but is always wondering if they are going to be the next one to steal from her.

The hardest part for Mary, her neighbours and the police, is the fact that despite all the visual evidence presented to the courts, the punishment has been tantamount to a mere slap on the wrist. 

This begs the question, is the Law really an Ass, or is it those who sit in judgment?


  1. Heart-rending story, Laurie, particularly as these dreadful things were done by those put in a position of trust.

    Good WoM piece. :)

  2. This is only scratching the surface of the problem Mo.

    Mary now only trusts her neighbours and they are constantly on the look out for signs that the carers are on the fiddle.

    The sad thing is that each time, the culprit has been the carer least expected and one that Mary has formed a close bond with.

    So not only does she lose a carer, she loses a much needed friend.