Register helps stem elder financial abuse

Paul Osborne

A decision by the nation's top law officers has been hailed as a step towards stopping financial abuse of the elderly.

Federal, state and territory attorneys-general agreed on Friday to a mandatory national register of enduring power of attorney documents.

The register will enable checks to ensure such documents are legitimate and current.

A detailed proposal and plans for further stages of reform, such as better access to justice, will go to a meeting in early 2020.

A campaign for the reform has been backed by the Australian Banking Association, the Seniors Rights Service, Elder Abuse Action Australia, the Older Persons Advocacy Network, National Seniors and the Council on the Ageing.

There have also been calls for a body to which financial abuse can be reported for investigation and action, and for standardised power of attorney laws across the country.

Australian Banking Association chief Anna Bligh said the register would help protect older Australians at risk from what has become an "insidious abuse".

"(It) will empower bank branch staff who are often at the front line of detection of elder financial abuse," Ms Bligh said.

"A mandatory national online register will help bank staff check to ensure a power of attorney is valid and up to date when a customer comes into a branch to complete transactions on someone else's behalf."

Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson said she would like to see the register operating by July 2021.

"Commitment to a mandatory register for power of attorney documents will be one more measure to reduce the likelihood of financial abuse of older Australians," she said.