Elder Law Review
Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) is a Victorian Government initiative and the first free legal service to respond to elder abuse in this State. It was officially launched on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 16th 2008 but began operating in May. The service is a joint venture project of four established services: the Council on the Ageing (COTA); Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Service; Eastern Community Legal Service; and the Public Interest Clearing House. SRV is working to establish two outreach clinics in its first year to be staffed by probono lawyers.
SRV is a specialist community legal service that also provides information and referral services and community and professional development.
At a systemic level, the service seeks to make changes through involvement in case work, strategic litigation and advocacy on behalf of seniors who need assistance and specialist resources to access justice. SRV has undertaken research on the legal needs of older persons and has been establishing links to research organizations to work on policy and law reform.
The point of contact for the service is the information and referral line. It is integrated into an existing specialist senior information service at COTA with 35 years experience in older person’s issues including abuse.
In the last three months SRV has received almost 500 calls. Almost half the callers (49%) were calling on their own behalf. Some were seeking information in the first instance, but more than 200 of the calls were referred to the legal service for advice. The most common type of abuse concerned financial abuse (38%) and emotional /psychological abuse (33%).
The primary aim of the legal service is to work with clients who have experienced elder abuse. Related areas of legal work include family care arrangements, property disputes, family violence, guardian and administration, wills and estates and retirement and aged care living.
The legal service operates from both metropolitan and regional sites. It employs the equivalent of 4 full time solicitors and accesses the services of commercial legal practitioners on a pro bono basis using where necessary the resources of the Public Interest Law Clearing House. The legal team provide face to face and telephone advice, secondary consultation and case work.
Many of SRV clients have contacted the service in relation to financial abuse. A common scenario is where a parent is persuaded to pool their resources with a family member to provide them with a granny flat on land owned by a member of the family. The arrangement breaks down and the parent needs assistance to recover their equity in the property and to move into aged care. Sometimes the family member has been appointed the parent’s attorney and accessed the parent’s funds for a similar scheme. The service is engaged to revoke the power of attorney, have an independent administrator appointed, lodge a caveat to protect the parent’s interest in land and assist the parent recover the funds or advise on alternate accommodation or arrangements for care..
A feature of our service is the employment of advocates who work very closely with the legal team. The advocate is able to assist clients who may need support in accessing services or considering alternatives to legal intervention.
The advocates have a role in establishing networks with health professionals and agencies to coordinate and improve service responses to elder abuse. The networks become a community resource of knowledge and experience in dealing with abuse.
The professional education component of SRV aims to increase awareness and intervention by service providers in the aged care sector, legal and medical professions. The service provides free education to service providers to improve their capacity to identify and respond to people experiencing abuse.
This role works closely with government departments, and universities in developing curriculum materials for social work, medical and legal faculties to improve undergraduate training in recognizing the signs of elder abuse. Improved knowledge of service providers aims to increase referrals to SRV.
Providing education and assistance to seniors in the management of their financial affairs is a high priority and requires a variety of responses. For example, SRV is engaged with the financial services industry in researching and lobbying for improved training for bank staff in identifying the indications of financial abuse and mismanagement and the steps that can be taken to identify abuse before the customer’s assets are dissipated.
Community education is provided to a wide range of community groups, including those from culturally diverse backgrounds. They aim to raise awareness of the various types of abuse, encourage people to take precautions against potential abuse, inform them of the range of services available, and encourage people to access the legal service if necessary.
A peer education model, which trains volunteers to present information to seniors clubs and groups, is a key strategy.
SRV aims to be the recognised leader in providing knowledge, policy and systemic advocacy in Victoria.
It aims to do so by increasing the knowledge and awareness of the rights of older people in the community; improving the response of government, the health and ageing sectors to elder abuse; developing links with interstate and overseas abuse prevention organisations and research institutions.