PFCC Funding helps fraud victims take back control
Posted 16th August 2023
Hundreds of people in Southend are being subjected to financial abuse made worse by the cost-of-living crisis.
South Essex Advocacy Services (SEAS) works with older and vulnerable people in the city to help them to recover from and protect themselves from further financial abuse.
They could have fallen victim to family members stealing money or property from them or trades people charging over the odds for work around the house.
Advocates from SEAS – who have been supporting vulnerable people in various ways since 1994 – work with the victim to establish what is happening with their finances, helping them to take back control and recover any lost assets.
They could be supporting someone to secure attendance allowance or going through a care review and spot the signs they are a potential victim of financial abuse.
CEO Paula Blundell said: “We support those who are victims or potential victims of financial abuse. A lot of the work we do is intervention work, when we come across a safeguarding issue when dealing with a client.
“People could be financially secure, but they present to us with financial difficulties. We work with them to look at their bank statements, their accounts and spending, to see if anything is going on. That often then triggers us to explore further.
“More often than not, we come across scenarios where family members are the perpetrators of the abuse. It could be they are using their parents’ online banking details to take money. Or, it could be ‘friends’ or neighbours taking advantage of the person’s vulnerability. It could be carers going in, using the person’s bank card to pick up some shopping and taking a bit extra for themselves in the process. Other scenarios have been where tradesmen befriend an older person and charge excessive amounts for repairs.
“We work alongside social services and the police to ensure that person is safeguarded from further abuse; that could include setting up an injunction or helping them to manage their finances in future.”
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC) has contributed £10,000 to South Essex Advocacy Services (SEAS) in the form of a crime and disorder reduction grant from the 2022-2023 Community Safety Development Fund to ensure more people can receive the support of an advocate.
Paula said: “Sadly, we are just scratching the surface with our work. We helped 50 people in the last 12 months. But, looking at the national statistics, at any given time there could be about 600 people in Southend subject to financial abuse. There is a lot more work that needs to be done, but we will never turn anyone away. Without the funding, it would be difficult for us to continue this level of service.
“These are really challenging times. We are seeing the cost-of-living crisis have an impact on everyone. It increases the risk as people are experiencing poverty and getting more desperate. As a result, we are seeing more people being subjected to financial abuse. Sadly, it is a sign of the times as people are desperate.
“These things take a lot of time to uncover. The police might not be willing to explore until there is some evidence to work from. We do the groundwork to find that evidence as we already have the relationship with the person; they trust us. We then get the police involved at the right time.
“To be a victim of theft is distressing for anyone, but particularly when you are older and vulnerable. To see the impact it has on their health and wellbeing is worrying. We are able to support them to reclaim their money or property and prevent it from happening any further. It makes a huge difference to them.
“It is not something anyone deserves to be subjected to. We fight tooth and nail to protect them.”
PFCC Roger Hirst said: “We cannot let the scourge of this kind of crime continue. Residents deserve to feel safe in their homes and for their money – no doubt hard-earned by them over many years – to remain theirs.
“Thankfully, they have SEAS on their side, working to put a stop to financial abuse and preventing it from continuing into the future.”
Contact SEAS on southessexadvocacy.org or 01702 340566.