Professor Eileen Webb

Professor Eileen Webb

New research undertaken by the University of Western Australia’s Law School has revealed that senior Australians living in rented accommodation are fearful of unaffordable rent increases or eviction.

The research discovered that bullying of vulnerable older Australians by landlords and management agents is rife. Seniors who are homeless or living in boarding houses are the most vulnerable but have little or no legal protection.

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The study recommends that state laws governing family accommodation and enduring powers of attorney need to be urgently overhauled. The author of the report, Professor Eileen Webb says, “In some cases, older people can be evicted on a whim.”

Homelessness among older Australians is a growing problem across the nation. A report released by the Australian Ageing Agenda in 2014 found that the proportion of clients aged over 55 accessing homelessness services increased by 14% in 2013, compared to 3% of all other age groups.

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Professor Eileen Webb made other recommendations as a result of the research, including a national register and tighter regulation of enduring powers of attorney. She also suggests that there should be recognition in legislation that financial and property abuses against older people be treated as crimes.

The impetus for the report came on the back of the mining boom, where the cost of living skyrocketed and already vulnerable people became further marginalized. Professor Webb says:

“Housing and rental prices soared and many people who had rented for many years found themselves unable to afford to stay in their homes or meet rising rental costs. Even those seniors who wanted to downsize faced difficulties regarding supply, location, price and amenity.

As people age, housing security is of considerable importance and the downside of the changing economic circumstances was, in our view, falling disproportionately on older people.”

Family breakdown is another concern. An older person sells their home to move in with family members. providing a financial benefit in exchange for accommodation. When these informal arrangements break down, the older person is often left without a home or financial means, and with little legal recourse.

Financial abuse of older Australians can take many forms, and may include:

  • The abuse of enduring powers of attorney to take assets
  • A carer taking over the finances of the older person for their own benefit
  • Putting pressure (or influence) on an older person to change their wills

Financial abuse can be committed by family members, caregivers, or anyone in a position of trust.

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Professor Eileen Webb says that the risk of homelessness and vulnerability was higher for older women. “We’re seeing a lot of women nearing retirement age and many have insufficient superannuation, because that generation often wasn’t in the full-time workforce. If a partner dies or a marriage breaks up or something goes wrong financially, women are finding themselves in very dire circumstances.”

She adds that the issue is compounded by a lack of emergency housing for women, with boarding or lodging houses geared towards older men.

At Estate Battles, we specialise in combating elder abuse and documenting formal family care arrangements, so that nobody is disadvantaged and everyone understands the situation. If you need to document family care arrangements or if you suspect elder abuse, contact us today for your free, 10-minute consultation.