One-in-five adults aged 18+ in Ireland either were currently experiencing or have in the past experienced financial abuse according to research carried out by Safeguarding Ireland and Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) in 2019.
Financial abuse can include theft, fraud, exploitation; pressure in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions, and the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.
Abusers will often manipulate relationships of trust and deliberately target people who face additional challenges in managing their money / finances independently, due to one or more of multiple factors such as:
- Reduced decision-making capacity as a result of, for example, an intellectual disability, dementia
- An acquired brain injury
- Mental health difficulties
- An inability to communicate effectively
- Lack of family and community support
- Inability to access financial services that meet their needs (including mobility challenges and digital exclusion)
- Frailty associated with the ageing process.
In some cases, the abuser will deliberately either seek out or manufacture opportunities under the guise of ‘helping’ or being a ‘good friend’ to take total control over the victim’s finances. It can also be a close family member who opportunistically takes advantage.
These factors are compounded in Ireland by a lack of public awareness of the abuse of adults at risk, a lack of respect for the rights of persons who are vulnerable, the absence of mandatory reporting of financial abuse, an absence of intersectoral collaboration, abuse related to joint accounts, financial abuse related to social welfare payments and increasing rates of financial abuse linked to technology.
(These and other factors are highlighted in the Law Reform Commission’s Issues Paper on A Regulatory Framework for Adult Safeguarding).
In addition to the serious financial hardship caused by theft of money, property or other assets, financial abuse can have profound and lasting psychological impacts on the victim leading to:
- Feelings of betrayal
- Distress and anxiety
- Embarrassment, loss of self-esteem and confidence in one’s own judgement
- Denial, fear and self-blame
- The loss of confidence to live independently.
Financial abuse has also been linked to negative health outcomes and a decline in mental health.
Together, these impacts can make adults at risk more vulnerable to further exploitation.
If you are worried that someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, Safeguarding Ireland’s message is to – ‘Call out Abuse’ and report it. Use this link to find out where to report.
In Safeguarding Ireland’s view, there is a clear obligation to ensure that the financial rights and
freedoms of adults who may be at risk are promoted and protected.
Safeguarding Ireland is calling for the establishment of a new independent Adult Safeguarding Authority to reduce adult abuse.
For more on financial abuse and adult safeguarding, including case studies, see Safeguarding Ireland’s Report – Identifying Risks Sharing Responsibilities.