Oamaru woman shares her experience of elder abuse
Elder abuse is a growing problem and the offending is often perpetrated by family members. One Oamaru woman breaks her silence on the extreme financial and psychological abuse she suffered from her granddaughter. Ruby Heyward reports.
For Molly, it was a scary experience, wrapped with feelings of shame and financial roadblocks, but it was also the best thing that happened to her.
For two years, the 70-year-old Oamaru woman, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, struggled with growing debts after the loss of her main income and financial exploitation by her granddaughter.
It all started when she agreed to extend an existing loan to assist her granddaughter, who was moving cities with her boyfriend
Although she was warned against it, Molly thought her granddaughter was honest and she wanted to help her out.
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Coming to an “internal arrangement”, she lent her granddaughter $11,000 and was promised it would be paid back over time.
“She promised me beyond all promises that she would pay me back,” she said.
Things got worse for Molly when she was forced to leave her employment at 69, due to an existing health problem.
“I was getting a pension and a good wage, then my income went straight down.”
She had gone from a financial security that allowed her to lend money, to getting behind on “everything”.
Every time she approached her granddaughter about repayments, she was met with an onslaught of profanity
“It was the awfulness of how she spoke to me.
“She completely let me down. I was left with nothing.”
Relying solely on the pension, Molly’s debts had snowballed so much that she could only dedicate $50 a fortnight to food.
She pleaded with her granddaughter to give her at least $10 a week so she could eat.
Her granddaughter changed her phone number.
Then, the phone calls started coming from the banks and services to which Molly owed money.
Every time the phone rang a panic washed over her.
“Here I am, a person who has looked after myself pretty well, being frightened of my phone.”
Even when she was able to meet monthly bill payments, she could not keep up with the building interest.
Unsure of what to do, Molly went to Work and Income New Zealand, and was referred to the North Otago Budget Advisory Service.
Financial mentor Mary Bulatao advised her to file bankruptcy.
“We put it all on paper to see the financial reality and asked Bulatao said.
Molly’s debts – as high as $63,000 at one point – exceeded the threshold needed to declare bankruptcy.
They had the difficult task of processing her bankruptcy during last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, but once it was done, Molly’s debts were wiped.
“The phone calls stopped,” Molly said.
It meant she was unable to take out any more loans, could not travel, and had to find a new bank that would allow her to hold an account.
Bulatao was able to deal with banks on Molly’s behalf and secured an account for her pension to go into.
“I’ll be out of it in three years,” Molly said.
“It’s given me my life back.”
For Molly, “pride” initially held her back from seeking help.
She said many of her friends thought financial assistance was not for them and would just “go through the cruelties”.
“These older ladies are not managing well, but they don’t know they can ask for help.”
Bulatao said the North Otago Budget Advisory Service was not dictatorial or judgmental.
“We are here to help people find their best options and work with them.”
She encouraged people to ask for help early.
“It’s hard to help someone who is too far in.”
With her bills all on track – and being close to paying the second of her three secured debts – Molly had a new lease on life.
However, she no longer had a relationship with her granddaughter.
“It’s bad for me. [But] I need to look after myself.”
– Oamaru Mail
A reader writes:
“My mother (91) and father (97) had been using a handyman/gardener for about three years. He seemed to do a good job and got on with them to the point where he was almost becoming like a son to them. This wasn’t problematic until there became an urgent need for my mother to move into a rest home because she had lost most of her physical mobility and had had to go to hospital for on two occasions within the same week or because of other health problems.
After much difficulty, I managed to find a hospital rest home bed for my mother in a retirement village/rest home that also had a serviced apartment that my father could purchase so that he could be close to her.
I was going to direct the handyman/gardener from this point on as to looking after their large family home, but he decided to stop working for my parents as he had an issue with me. My father called him back and after that the understanding was that my father would continue to tell him what needed to be done.
Not long after that my mother passed away, and this is when the financial abuse started to become noticeable.
My father received rent from a house he owned of $560 a month, all of which he would give to the gardener/handyman who didn’t seem to be doing a lot around the property.
The relationship between my father and the gardener/handyman had become even more father and son like, with the gardener/handyman calling my father “dad”.
Then he charged $1000 for what looked like about a days work. By this time myself and my siblings were getting concerned that the gardener/handyman was increasingly overcharging and I asked for receipts.
The gardener/handyman then claimed I threatened his mother when I rang her to leave a message. The gardener/handyman did not, or claimed not, to have a phone or a bank account, with all payments strictly cash.
He said that if I ever threatened his mother again he would find out where I lived and deal to me. He then went to see my father and made all sorts of accusations about me including that I was disrespectful to my parents.
One of my sisters took over dealing with the handyman and suggested a “cooling off” period of two weeks. We paid him the $1000 and a few weeks later he told my father he wouldn’t be working for him anymore.
Of course, the situation was a lot more complicated than this brief description outlines. The essence of the problem was that my father had complete faith in the gardener/handyman and was not able to comprehend that he could be ripping him off.
My father had complete charge over his own affairs and while in a state of mind that made him vulnerable, would not have been considered by a doctor to be in need of the Enduring Power Of Attorney being enacted.
It is quite feasible for old people to be ripped off by people they know, while concerned families have no power to do anything about this.
Our concern was that the financial abuse was going to increase and my father could be manipulated into other actions as well such as having my father’s Will altered.
Luckily, and surprisingly, my father agreed to enacting the EDOA for his financial affairs during the cooling off period which my sister arranged with the lawyers so that there was some degree of protection if my father had kept the gardener/handyman”.
Imagine a couple in their nineties, being NASC – assessed by a third party DHB-funded NGO.
The NASC assessor starts the assessment process by (wrongly) throwing suspicion on the family for even having the temerity to consider that their parents might be in need of an increased level of support and assistance.
The Rest Home Provider communicates a similar suspicion against the family.
The NASC results for the couple are then found to be disparate (in conflict).
One party to the couple is fully functional, the other party is in need of near-hospital rest home care.
The NASC assessor makes the recommendation that the couple should be split apart.
The family (quite rightly) tell the NASC Assessor to get stuffed, and manage to purchase a serviced unit for their elderly parents that doesn’t have as many restrictions as a hospital care unit.
Soon after the elderly couple settle in, one of the Rest Home Providers staff (a gardener) arrives on the property, and begins to strike up a relationship with the couple.
Over time, the Rest Home Providers gardener (who is also quite a proficient handyman) gains the confidence of the couple, and is the “go to” person for any jobs that need doing around the property.
The gardener begins calling the elderly male in the couple relationship ‘Dad”.
The gardener then starts to “notice” jobs around the house that the gardener thinks might need some attention (jobs which don’t actually need any attention at all).
The gardener not only illegitimately increases the number of jobs he is doing around the elderly couples house; he also starts ratcheting his hourly rate up as well.
By the time the elderly couples family members cotton on to what is going on, the gardener is charging $1000.00 a day for a days work – all right under the nose of their employer, the same Rest Home Provider who none-too-subtly accused the family members of trying to fob off their 90 year old parents.
When called out for his outrageous and exploitive behaviour, the gardener threatens physical harm upon the elderly couples family members.
The Rest Home does nothing – as far as we know, the gardener is still employed by the Rest Home Provider.
Bewarecare has the name and location of the Rest Home Provider – we are considering whether or not to publish it.
So, I wrote this:
And Age Concerns Response was this (see page 8):
NB: BewareCare NZ has a number of other elderly consumer care stories on file, and the agencies in each one will be similarly publicized.
” I had a sister who became our mothers live-in Carer.
My sister would take our mothers money every pay day and wouldn’t pay her bills or buy her food and would abuse her over anything. My sister was being paid as well to care for our mother.
My sister even got our mother to change her will, in favour of herself, dis-inheriting us, her siblings.
We contacted Age Concern for help.
Age Concern came out out to talk to our mother but they did it in front of my sister, so of course my mother was too scared to say anything, because of the abuse my mother would have got from my sister if she did so.
My sister even went to hospice and abused my mother on her death bed, stating that if my mother did not die at home, she wouldn’t be allowed to stay in the house if she was still alive.
I support BewareCare NZ regarding having something done to stop this from happening to others – family members do this as well”.