The Australian Banking Association (ABA) has called on state and territory governments to adopt consistent laws on powers of attorney to prevent elder financial abuse.
The association’s call for consistency came ahead of a meeting yesterday (31 March) between state and federal attorneys-general to consider a scope for a national register of power of attorney instruments.
According to the ABA, power of attorney laws and their protections are currently different in each state and territory, with no register to track who has power of attorney over whom.
The national register is a recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into elder abuse.
The ALRC report made recommendations into elder abuse in 2017, while there was also a commitment by attorneys-general in 2019 to set baseline minimum standards for powers of attorneys and create a mandatory national online register for powers of attorney, according to the ABA.
As such, the ABA has now called on governments across Australia to establish power of attorney laws that are the same across the country and offers protection to the elderly from this kind of abuse.
In addition, it has called for a national power of attorney register to check if the powers of attorney documents are legitimate and current.
The ABA has also urged the government to establish a place to report abuse in each state that can investigate and act on the reports.
Commenting on the ABA’s calls for consistency, ABA CEO Anna Bligh said: “This meeting presents an opportunity to finally get this right.
“Financial abuse is a serious and far-reaching problem. Elderly customers and those with a disability are most at risk. Nationally consistent laws are vital in order to protect these customers.”
Ms Bligh added that the introduction of a register would assist with safeguarding older and vulnerable people’s financial status by “providing a reliable single source of information to verify the authenticity and currency of an instrument”.
She concluded: “It is critically important for our nation that all governments are doing all within their power to help elderly people who are at risk of abuse in our community.”
The ABA made similar calls for consistency in powers of attorney laws in 2019, when it joined hands with a publishing company to launch a campaign aimed at preventing elder financial abuse.
The campaign specifically called on governments across Australia to establish consistent powers of attorney laws, a national power of attorney register to check if powers of attorney documents are legitimate and current, and somewhere to report the abuse in each state that can investigate and act on the reported abuse.
At the launch of the campaign, former attorney-general Christian Porter had announced his plans for the next Council of Attorneys-General meeting to set baseline standards of a national model of powers of attorney to enable the establishment of a national register.
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Malavika Santhebennur is the features editor on the mortgages titles at Momentum Media.
Before joining the team in 2019, Malavika held roles with Money Management and Benchmark Media. She has been writing about financial services for the past six years.