Legal service links rising house prices to high rates of elder abuse

ABC Newcastle - By Liz Farquhar
An elderly couple down a mall with the help of a younger woman.
There is a high rate of elder abuse in Newcastle and the Hunter prompting Legal Aid NSW's expansion.(AAP: Glenn Hunt)

Jane* is in her seventies and lives on the NSW Central Coast in a small fibro house that she desperately wants her adult son to move out of. 

She recently sought help from a specialist service at Legal Aid, aimed at helping those affected by elder abuse.

"I'd lock him out, but he'd get back in the house," she said.  "My house is like a tip, but he takes no notice and I've just had enough. "I just want my house back, I just like my house tidy, you know what I mean?

"I did ring the police and I finally went to Legal Aid and they got the ball rolling."

Elder abuse service expands

A woman with short, blonde curly hair stands in front of a bookcase.
Mary Lovelock is a senior solicitor at Legal Aid NSW and specialises in elder abuse.(Supplied: Legal Aid NSW)

Legal Aid NSW has Commonwealth funding for the free Elder Abuse Service (EAS) on the NSW Central Coast, which is now expanding to Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

Senior solicitor Mary Lovelock said new data from the Ageing and Disability Commission found  the Hunter region had the highest rate of elder abuse in NSW.

Ms Lovelock describes it as an insidious form of abuse.

"I think older people have challenges in speaking out about it — often they don't identify that it's elder abuse," she said. "What our service is seeing [more of] is the abusive behaviour of adult children and that's what makes elder abuse so particularly confronting and challenging to deal with."

House prices fuel abuse 

Ms Lovelock said the high cost of housing was often at the heart of the abuse.

"It can be an adult child standing over mum or dad on pension day," she said.

"But with the recent surge in housing prices, it can involve really serious amounts of money.

"We've assisted many clients who've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars through different forms of financial abuse.

"The housing crisis has fuelled a lot of the financial abuse we're seeing."

In a hurry for inheritance

Most of the problems seen by the Legal Aid service centre on money and housing, and the pressure older people feel in helping their children get into the housing market.

"There's what we call 'inheritance impatience'," Ms Lovelock said.

"We get children saying 'mum and dad are spending their money, that's my inheritance'. "Now, older people are entitled to do exactly what they want with the money they've worked hard for.

The hand of a young woman takes cash from the hand of an older man.
Elder abuse can involve adult children pressuring their elderly parents for money and loans.(ABC News: Jake Evans)

"The other thing we've seen through COVID is adult children moving back into the family home because they've lost their job. "Sometimes it's very difficult for the older person to say no."

Ms Lovelock urged people to contact Legal Aid if they were worried about their situation.

"If anything that I've said resonates with you, and you're sitting at home thinking, 'This is a little bit of my story', then know that you're not alone. Know that there is help out there for you," she said.

If you or someone you know may be affected by elder abuse you can call Legal Aid NSW and ask for the free Elder Abuse Service on 1300 888 529.

* Not her real name.

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