Remediation

There are two types of situations:

  1. Where there is the potential for abuse because the parties have not considered how a situation may change into the future and you are providing advice to prevent elder abuse or reduce the potential in the future. You may have identified risk factors exist with a particular transaction and there is the potential of harm to an older person in the future.
  2. Where there are indications of abuse occurring or harm being suffered by an older person.

    How to advise your client

    In all situations it is important that your response does not cause more harm and that you do not undermine the rights of an older person.

    If your organisation has a policy or procedure in place you need to follow them. Most elder-abuse prevention policies include contacting a supervisor or a specific person in the organisation to report and discuss your concerns, and to document in the client’s file a detailed record of the situation and information received that led to the concerns.

    How to respond

    Your response to potential abuse must be respectful of the existing relationships that are considered important to an older person. You need to understand why older people are agreeing to these types of transactions. All older persons experiencing elder abuse or asking you to provide a service that exposes them to elder abuse need to have their relationship with the abuser or potential abuser acknowledged and understood. 

    In particular, where there are indications of abuse occurring or the older person confirms abuse is occurring, seeking to understand the person in isolation from the context of their relationships to the abuser places the older person in a situation where they may feel misunderstood and ashamed of their continuing attachment and relationship with a person who is, usually, very significant in their life. Gaining a true understanding of the elements that the older person is struggling to integrate and make sense of will help you respond appropriately and effectively. 

    Reassure the older person that you are concerned about them, that you are professionally obligated to provide advice that protects their interests, and that you can help them. 

    A communication technique that can assist is to direct the attention to yourself:

    • "As an accountant I am obligated because of my professional conduct rules to provide you with some advice for you to consider".
    • "I need to reassure myself that you are okay".
    • "I need to know if you are alright or if you need help".
    • "I would like to get someone to help me with your situation".
    • "I am obligated by my professional conduct rules to ensure that you are aware of the disadvantages of this transaction".
    • "I need some help with this transaction".
    • "I found it particularly helpful to think through possible scenarios that could occur in the future to make sure I have consider all angles before I make a decision. For example, imagine if […] "
    • "In order for us to be able to carry this out for you I am obligated under my professional conduct rules to ensure that you are independently advised. We can do that now by having a private interview or I can arrange for a colleague […]"
    • "An easy way to ensure I can prove you received independent advice would be for me to arrange for you to talk to a confidential and specialist service..."

    Assess the urgency of the situation 

    You can only assess the level of risk based on the information you have been given. Your questions should not be intrusive at this point in time unless your judgement is that there is a risk of harm. 

    The most appropriate action – if there is no immediate harm – is to establish with the client that they need to receive independent advice. Regardless of whether you act for the older person only, or for both them and the potential abuser, you need to follow your risk management statement or organisation’s procedures on conflict of interest and compliance.

    This will generally involve the reporting of your suspicions or concerns immediately to your supervisor or a colleague for consideration and action, or direct pursuit of advice from your statewide elder abuse services.

    If you believe there is a risk of immediate harm to your client then you need to act depending on the nature of the harm.

    If you suspect the clients’ welfare is at risk you may consider obtaining permission to contact their doctor or a close friend or family member, contact the police or an ambulance. Contacting Senior Rights Victoria while the client is present will provide an experienced person to speak to your client confidentially.

    Factors that impact on urgency include:

    • the danger to the older person or any other person
    • the need for medical attention
    • the risk of repeated or increasing abuse
    • the risk of financial assets being lost or reduced irretrievably. 

    Ideally your organisation will have adequate procedures to follow in such circumstances, preferably documented or referenced in its risk management statement.

    Arrange for independent advice to be given to both parties

    If you think a transaction has the potential for abuse, it may be that both parties have not considered the potential. You need to ensure that the older person has understood the precise effect of what they want to do, the alternatives which are available to them, and the comparative advantages of all alternatives. Suggest safeguards that could be put in place to manage unexpected situations in the future. Your client has the right to make "bad decisions" or to not act in their own best interests.

    In a situation where both parties appear well-intentioned, any suggestion that the older person is being harmed or exploited is likely to offend both parties. An effective communication technique that can assist is to direct the attention to yourself and your professional obligations: That the necessity of gaining independent advice is essential to the process of facilitating the transaction. You may find that both parties are keen to ensure that the transaction is professional and "above board". Use your professional judgement to determine the best way to arrange independent advice.

    • "In order for us to be able to carry this out for you I am obligated under my professional conduct rules to ensure that you are independently advised. We can do that now by having a private interview or I can arrange for a colleague […]"
    • "As an accountant I am obligated because of my professional conduct rules to provide you with some advice for you to consider."
    • "I am obligated by my professional conduct rules to ensure that you are aware of the disadvantages of this transaction."
    • "An easy way to ensure I can prove you received independent advice would be for me to arrange for you to talk to a confidential and specialist service [...] "
    • "We can arrange for a person to facilitate a family meeting with all your children present."
    • "I found it particularly helpful to think through possible scenarios that could occur in the future to make sure I have consider all angles before I make a decision. For example, imagine if […] "

    For common transactions that pose a risk, have a prepared set of scenarios or questions ready – this provides reassurance that it is normal to discuss potentially difficult situations. The scenarios can be the same for each party.

    • Have you discussed this arrangement with all of your children?
    • What if the relationship between your child and their partner ends?
    • What if your child has children?
    • What if your children for reasons such as work or finances cannot afford to continue living in the house or wish to sell it?
    • What if you do not enjoy living with […] ?
    • What do you want to happen if they are unable to provide you with care or you need specialist care into the future?
    • What if you do not have sufficient income to pay for medical expenses?

    Write a comprehensive file note to record your advice

    It should be objective and note the exchange of information from your client to you and from you to your client. Additionally, it should identify the other parties present and their contribution and when you addressed them specifically with your concerns.

    If abuse is disclosed

    If abuse is disclosed or where it is highly likely in your professional opinion that it is occurring, it is important to be non-judgemental. Remember that the relationship between your client and the abuser is still likely to be very important to your client. Listen to the older person’s story and acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. The key action is to offer support, reinforce that they have a right to live safely and with dignity, and free of fear and abuse. Avoid offering any comment on the abuser; rather concentrate on arranging support. Encourage the older person to contact their local statewide elder abuse service or offer to contact the abuse service on their behalf to explain the situation. Stress at all times their confidentiality and that situations like theirs are quite common.

    You are not an expert and are not expected to:

    • solve the problem
    • medically assess an older person and their situation in any way
    • decide whether the situation meets the threshold for laying criminal charges.

    Where to refer your client for advice and support

    Referral is the process of directing a client to a service or third party that is better able to meet their needs, that is, needs that you or your organisation are unable to meet or where it resolves a conflict of interest. Your organisation may have an existing relationship with other accounting firms or legal firms. If this is the case, then perhaps discussing and developing a mutual understanding or agreement as to how you might respond in this situation would be valuable.

    Ensuring that an agreement or referral pathway is established does not reduce your duty to maintain your client’s confidentiality or the need to seek permission from your client prior to disclosing information that may assist in the referral.

    The statewide elder abuse services are specialist services to whom you can refer your client for advisory or advocacy services. Alternatively, the parties may be happy to seek independent advice and you need to be confident that you are referring to an organisation that can provide the required services.

    It is important to include your clients in the referral process. Discussing a referral with an older person may take more time and provide a challenge but it does not diminish the need to ensure they are fully involved in determining what action they will take with regard to obtaining independent advice.

    If your client does not take your advice

    Follow up with a clear letter that confirms their instructions and sets out your advice as to the disadvantages and potential risk. Provide them with a recommendation to discuss the matter further with your statewide elder abuse services and stress that it is a confidential and specialist service.

    Ask them to confirm in writing that they understand the potential disadvantage of their instructions prior to you proceeding with the transaction.

    Remember: People have the right to make a "bad decision". All you can do is ensure they understand the risks and know where to get help. 

    Beware of your own ageist attitudes and bias to an older person and their vulnerability or diminishing capacity. Encourage your client to consider their assets as their own and that your objective is to protect their interests. If they are determined to proceed, take the approach that you have a role in developing your client's awareness of the potential of abuse.

    Referral processes

    Referral is the process of directing a client to a service or third party that is better able to meet their needs, that is, needs that you or your organisation are unable to meet or where it resolves a conflict of interest. Your organisation may have an existing relationship with other accounting firms and legal firms. If this is the case then perhaps discussing and developing with those firms a mutual understanding or agreement of how you might respond in this situation would be valuable.

    The establishment of an agreement with another firm on a referral pathway does not reduce your duty to maintain your client’s confidentiality or the need to seek permission from your client prior to disclosing information that may assist in the referral.

    The statewide elder abuse services included in this web toolkit for CPA Australia members are specialist service organisations to which your client may be referred. The role of these services is to provide advice to older people with regard to accessing independent professional legal, financial and personal advice or advocacy services.

    Alternatively, the parties may be happy to seek independent advice themselves.

    When making referrals you need to be confident that you are referring to an organisation that can provide the required services and understands the issues involved in the prevention of the financial abuse of older people.

    Your clients must be included in the referral process. Discussing a referral with an older person may take more time and provide a challenge, but it does not diminish the need to ensure they are fully involved in determining what action they will take with regard to obtaining independent advice.