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Bermuda must do more to protect its seniors

A seniors advocate has called for stronger laws to protect the elderly from being exploited out of their property.

Despite the 2008 introduction of the Seniors Abuse Registry Act, Age Concern Director Claudette Fleming said Bermuda suffered from “regulations but a lack of enforcement”.

She spoke to

The Royal Gazette after two cases came to light of elderly residents claiming unfair treatment from their families, involving property.

Both complained to the National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged (NOSPC), and the agency confirmed it knew of their cases.

However, NOSPC head John Payne said the capacity of the Registrar and the NOSPC to carry out their own investigations was “very limited”.

“As a result, they work very closely with the Vulnerable Persons Unit of the Bermuda Police Service,” he said.

There are now three persons named on the Senior Abuse Register created under the Act. But Mr Payne said that since alleged senior abuse must be tried in criminal rather than civil courts, the burden of proof is higher.

“Neither the Registrar, nor the National Office, has the authority to find a person guilty of Senior Abuse,” he added. “Only a court can determine guilt or innocence.”

The Registrar takes advice from the Attorney General’s Chambers when needed — but cannot provide legal advice to clients.

Instead, complainants are directed to seek their own legal advice.

“When matters relate to property there are often legal issues that must be decided by the Courts,” Mr Payne continued. “In these situations, this is the advice given.

“Often there are other issues that impact on the care and well-being of the senior other than abuse. In these instances NOSPC works with the family and the senior to ensure that the appropriate services are put in place for the care of the senior. This is occurring in at least one of the cases mentioned.”

One case involved an elderly man who unwittingly signed over his house to two grandchildren.

NOSPC can’t comment on case specifics, but confirmed they were “aware of the concerns”.

In another instance, an elderly woman who shared a home with her daughter claimed she was being forced to live at the top of a flight of stairs that she couldn’t negotiate.

NOSPC “is aware of the concerns raised by this individual and her care givers and we are doing what we can to assist”, a spokesman said.

Ms Fleming responded: “We’re not going to be able to go much further without strengthening the powers of the Registrar, in terms of human resources capacity.”

With an increasingly older population, contracting economy and “the proliferation of greed, selfishness, attitudes of unearned entitlement”, she said, “the environment is ripe for the abuse of vulnerable people”.

She suggested the creation of an Asset Protection Act allowing the Registrar to reverse “questionable decisions” made by the elderly.

“They’ve given everything away — how can they take people to court? Sometimes people need others to go to bat for them.”

She also called for “collegial responsibility from the legal fraternity to not allow certain cases to take place”.

Last month, Age Concern offered a free legal seminar on wills and estates that was attended by 115 older adults, she said.

Another is anticipated for later this year.

“We’d like to see a whole lot more older adults, especially those 50 and older, getting their legal affairs in order, particularly if they own property,” Ms Fleming said.

“However, if for whatever reason older adults unwittingly fall into a situation of abuse, we expect those who are found guilty of that abuse will be appropriately and judiciously dealt with by the relevant legal authorities.”

Useful website: www.ageconcern.bm.

Better protection: Seniors are being exploited despite the 2008 introduction of the Seniors Abuse Registry Act.

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Published May 16, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 15, 2013 at 10:40 pm)

Bermuda must do more to protect its seniors

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