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State AG inaction enables power-of-attorney parasites: Commissioner

Age Discrimination
Content type: Media Release
Topic(s): Age Discrimination

Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner says thousands of older Australians are being robbed and cheated out of millions of dollars every year because of a dysfunctional enduring power-of-attorney (EPOA) framework. The Commissioner is calling on state and territory Attorneys-General to commit to fixing the problem at the Standing Council of Attorneys-General meeting in Darwin this week.

An EPOA is a legal document that can give a person the legal authority to manage someone’s assets and make financial and legal decisions indefinitely on their behalf. Older people often appoint family members or close friends under an EPOA when they feel they need support with their financial and legal affairs.

Currently, every Australian jurisdiction has different EPOA laws and regulations, and there is no national EPOA register where information can be easily accessed about who holds these powers. This results in significant confusion for many older people as well as bankers, lawyers, financial and other professionals who need to process financial transactions and legal documents.

Age Discrimination Commissioner the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO said: “Governments across Australia have taken very little action on this despite the Australian Law Reform Commission recommending in 2017 nationally consistent laws and the implementation of a register. Despite these recommendations and years of advocacy from myself and others nothing has changed.

“It’s totally unacceptable – because as a result of the confusion and complexity of our country’s EPOA framework thousands of older people are being ripped off every day by unscrupulous relatives, friends and others.

“It has been agreed that the different laws across the states and territories make it almost impossible to have a workable national EPOA register. Without a national register, there is no simple and direct way of confirming if an EPOA has been revoked, allowing former EPOA-holders to steal money from older people’s bank accounts, use their assets illegally and falsely sign off on documents.

“It’s a system that’s rife with serious fraud and which fosters heartbreaking financial abuse of older people that runs into millions of dollars every year, often placing them in a perilous financial position that impacts significantly on their health and wellbeing. There’s also the mental and emotional abuse they experience because it’s usually family members who are ripping them off. This makes EPOA fraud hidden because many older people don’t want to report their relatives to relevant agencies or the police.”

Commissioner Patterson said advocates across the seniors’ rights, financial, legal and community sectors have been trying for almost six years to get Australia’s EPOA laws harmonised and a national EPOA register established, but action from all state governments has been glacial.

“It’s not impossible to fix, and it would be a major factor in reducing elder abuse, so it’s incredibly frustrating to see so little progress. The Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus AC KC is very keen to get this done and will raise EPOA reform at this week’s meeting of Attorneys-General in Darwin on Friday. In 2018/19 the Federal Government stated it would pay for the development of a national EPOA register.

“I’m calling on the state and territory Attorneys-General to stop procrastinating and be the changemakers. We need to help protect older Australians from being preyed on, ripped off and abused. By not taking action, these AGs are basically enabling power-of-attorney parasites to seriously harm the health and security of too many older Australians.

“All the stakeholders are on board. All we need is a commitment from the A-Gs to get this done. It’s a vital component for addressing elder abuse and will be something for which all governments across the country can take credit. It’s an absolute no-brainer, so let’s get moving and get it done.”

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