onger life expectancies and a resulting inheritance impatience is leading to more cases of elder abuse, as the organisations taking calls from seniors in distress lobby for more funds.The NSW Ageing and Disability Commission’s abuse helpline received 14,025 calls in 2022-23, an increase of 12 per cent from the previous year, its annual report shows.
Of the more than 5000 allegations about abuse of older people made to the commission, the highest number related to psychological abuse (41.7 per cent). However, the commission also received more than 1400 complaints of pure financial abuse, including exploitation, misused power of attorney and theft.
Speaking at budget estimates this month, NSW Ageing and Disability Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald said the trend was attributable to more people reaching the age of 75, an increase in elderly poverty – particularly among single women – and an emerging phenomenon of “inheritance impatience”.
“Our children – my children – will have to wait much longer for the wealth transfer to occur, and that wealth transfer is being pushed out by five to 10 years,” he said.
“What we know about adult children is that they are not patient, so inheritance impatience will, in fact, grow.”
Fitzgerald, a former productivity commissioner who led the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has routinely called for more funding for elder abuse services.
In the Ageing and Disability Commission’s annual report, Fitzgerald wrote that financial resourcing remained a serious issue to be addressed given the increasing demand for its work.
“We are really where child protection was 30 years ago and domestic violence was 20 years ago,” Fitzgerald told estimates, warning “we won’t have that period of time in order to respond”.
NSW Minister for Seniors Jodie Harrison said the commission had received an extra $2.5 million this year on top of its baseline budget, telling Senate estimates the state government had faced a “rough budget”.
“The government will continue to work with [the commission] on addressing issues relating to elder abuse and demands for its services,” she said, acknowledging the increase in helpline calls and stressing that abuse in any form must be condemned.
In its 2024-25 budget submission, published this month, the Victorian branch of the Council of the Ageing (COTA) urged a $2 million increase in funding to its services arm, Seniors Rights Victoria, to meet “expressed demand for non-legal support” for older Victorians experiencing elder abuse.
Seniors Rights Victoria’s elder abuse helpline has just one staff member.
COTA is also seeking $1 million over four years to renew and expand the state government’s Integrated Services Fund for community legal centres, in light of the rise in cases.
A Victorian government spokesperson said it had invested $6 million into elder abuse services provided by Seniors Rights Victoria and its 10 Elder Abuse Prevention Networks at family violence services.
“With increased awareness of elder abuse in the community, we expect that calls to helplines will increase, and we are working with COTA Victoria and Seniors Rights Victoria to monitor the number of calls,” they said.
Relationships Australia provides family mediation services for elder abuse cases, but the federal government only funds the program in Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT. The program is being piloted in NSW, due to state government funding.
Nick Tebbey, national executive officer of Relationships Australia, said there needs to be a nationally consistent approach to elder abuse.
He said the increase in elder abuse reports was being driven by both greater awareness and a rising rate of incidence, and expects to see more, and more heightened, financial abuse cases as a result of the cost-of-living crisis and inheritance transfer.
“We are about to see a huge intergenerational transfer of wealth in this country and inheritance is a source of conflict,” he said.
Tebbey said common forms of psychological abuse included bullying, degradation and coercive control behaviours, including limiting who an elderly person can see – particularly grandchildren – to extract an advantage, financial or otherwise.
He said more research needed to be done on the conditions which lead to elder abuse, noting perpetrators were typically part of the “sandwich generation”: responsible for both children and ageing parents, often while still in the workforce themselves.
“These are not necessarily people who’ve set out to abuse their parents – it can happen through a whole confluence of factors,” he said.
“They are caught between caring for their children and their parents, and that can lead to difficult and poor decisions being made.”