Financial Abuse – Looking and Listening

When we talk about risk in health and social care we think of the risk of harm. Of course that’s not just about physical harm, and a recent shocking news story about financial exploitation in Chester points to a worrying area of risk for people with mental health problems – the risk of financial harm. The story followed a major investigation by police and the local social services authority into an organised group who pretended to befriend vulnerable people but actually defrauded and stole from them.

Firstly, financial abuse is a form of abuse – guidance in the Care Act gives examples. It’s not just about theft and fraud, but can include internet scams, coercing someone about what they include in their will, or getting control of someone’s benefits or pension for their own use.

Looking for tell-tale signs

Financial abuse is very difficult to spot. Vulnerable people may know it’s happening to them and if they do they may be embarrassed to tell anyone.  The abuse may not be from strangers but even more distressingly from family and friends. How we can identify whether money has been handed over willingly or under duress, especially where the person does have the mental capacity to know they are giving money to someone else?  How do we identify this? First of all our risk assessment should include questions about someone’s vulnerability. Have they been vulnerable to this sort of abuse in the past? How financially aware are they? It is surprising how many people have fallen for computer based financial scams.

Listen to the locals

The police who investigated the Chester case pointed to the help of local people in identifying what was going on. Health and social care workers may not see what is happening if the person won’t tell them, but other people in the neighbourhood may have seen suspicious behaviour. A campaign run by Birmingham City Council a couple of years ago tried to raise awareness about tell-tale warning signs, and these can be part of our assessment of risk.

  • Is the person struggling to pay bills when previously they have managed?
  • Are they managing their own bank account or pension – if not why not?
  • Is the person being visited or ‘befriended’ by someone who has not taken an interest before?
  • Are their reports of aggressive tactics by cold callers in the area where the person lives?

These aren’t definite indicators of financial abuse, but they shouldn’t be ignored if someone reports them to you. When we think about financial abuse we usually think about an isolated mentally frail person living in their own home. Don’t let the image cloud our thinking. It can happen in care homes, hospitals and in the street.


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