Would you know who to turn to if you were being abused or if you thought that an elderly or vulnerable relative, friend or neighbour was being abused?

Everyone has the right to live in safety free from abuse. Abuse is when someone causes another harm or distress. The abuse may be a single or a repeated act or it could be a failure to take appropriate action. The abuse can be financial; for example someone taking your money or valuables without your permission, or pressuring you to change your will or to spend your money in a way that you do not want to. The abuse can be physical; for example hitting you, or restraining you in an inappropriate way. The abuse can be psychological; this could involve someone calling you names, threatening you, humiliating you, or controlling you. The abuse can be sexual; touching you, or assaulting you. The abuse can be neglect; when a carer fails to meet your basic needs so that you are hungry, in pain or cold.

People responsible for abuse are often taking advantage of a special relationship. It could be a friend or a family member or a paid carer. Whatever the situation abuse is never acceptable.

Anyone at all can be at risk of abuse but some people can be more vulnerable. You can be more vulnerable if you are isolated and have little contact with family or friends; have memory problems or difficulty communicating; or you do not get on with your carer.

If you are being abused then you should speak to your family or friends or to someone you trust like your General Practitioner, your social worker or your solicitor. Your local authority will have a dedicated team for reporting concerns about abuse or neglect. This may be called a safeguarding team or an adult social care team.

If you suspect that someone is being abused then start by talking to them in private. Gently mention your concerns. Ask the person what they would like you to do. You could offer to get them help but it is important to listen to what they want. Give them time to think about what they want to do next. Do not promise the person that you will not tell anyone else because if they are at risk of harm you may need to get help for them.

Action on Elder Abuse has a confidential helpline that you can call. If you think someone is at immediate risk of harm or needs urgent protection then call the police or an ambulance. If you feel a crime has been committed then you can report your concerns to the police.

You can contact Anita Whelan at Dixon Stewart. She is a qualified Legal Executive and is a member of Solicitors for the Elderly. Solicitors for the Elderly is an independent national organisation of lawyers who provide specialist legal advice for the elderly, vulnerable, their families and their carers. She holds an Older Client Care Practice Award. To make an appointment to see Anita then call 01425 621515 or e mail Anita’s assistant on Mariep@dixonstewart.com