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Family law

Protection for older people against abuse or neglect

The criminal law: Protections for vulnerable adults

Crimes Act 1961, ss 2, 150A, 151, 195, 195A

Under the Crimes Act, certain people are legally responsible for protecting a vulnerable adult from injury.

Who is a “vulnerable adult” in this context?

Crimes Act 1961, s 2

A vulnerable adult is someone who because of their age, sickness or mental impairment, or because they are in detention, is completely unable to remove themselves from the care or charge of another person. They may still have the mental capacity (in terms of the 3PR Act) to make or communicate decisions.

Who must protect a “vulnerable adult”?

Crimes Act 1961, ss 151, 195 195A

At home:

  • Anyone who is over 18 and who is aware that abuse of a vulnerable adult is occurring in the household they live in or are a member of (whether or not they live there) must take reasonable steps to protect that vulnerable adult from death, serious harm or sexual assault.
  • Caregivers of vulnerable adults must ensure that all their basic needs are met and take reasonable steps to protect them from injury.

In care and residential facilities:

  • All staff members of any hospital, institution or residence (such as a rest home) must ensure that a vulnerable adult does not suffer injury, ill-health or any mental disorder due to a major departure from reasonable standards of care.

If they become aware that a vulnerable adult is being abused, they must take reasonable steps to protect that vulnerable adult from death, serious harm or sexual assault, and if they have care of the vulnerable adult, injury.

Practically, this means that household members and hospital staff must report any serious abuse of vulnerable adults.

The maximum penalty for not taking reasonable steps to protect a vulnerable adult from injury is 10 years in prison.

How should abuse be reported?

No single organisation is responsible for investigating the abuse of vulnerable adults. A number of agencies may receive complaints. The most appropriate option will depend on the nature of the abuse. These agencies include:

  • Age Concern
  • The Health and Disability Commissioner
  • The police
  • The operators of the hospital, institution or residence the vulnerable person lives in.

For more information, see: “Where to go for more support” at the bottom of this page.

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Family violence and elder abuse

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice on how legal aid works, whether you might be eligible for the service, and the next steps.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Age Concern

Age Concern provides a range of resources on aspects of life for older people including elder abuse.

Website: www.ageconcern.org.nz
Email: national.office@ageconcern.org.nz
Phone: 0800 65 2 105

Elder Abuse Response Service (EARS) – Office for Seniors

The Elder Abuse Response Service is a free, confidential 24-hour helpline.

Website: www.officeforseniors.govt.nz/our-work/raising-awareness-of-elder-abuse/elder-abuse-response-service
Email: support@elderabuse.nz
Phone: 0800 32 668 65
Text: 5032

Women’s Refuge

Women’s Refuge provides 24-hour support, advocacy and accommodation for women and their children experiencing family violence throughout New Zealand.

Website: www.womensrefuge.org.nz
Crisis line (24/7): 0800 REFUGE (0800 733 843)
Email: info@refuge.org.nz
Instagram: www.instagram.com/womensrefugenz
Facebook: www.facebook.com/womensrefugenz

Family Violence – It’s Not OK

“It’s not OK” is a community-driven behaviour change campaign to reduce family violence in New Zealand. Its goal is to change attitudes and behaviour that tolerate any kind of family violence. The website has resources for families who are experiencing abuse.

Website: www.areyouok.org.nz
Phone: 0800 456 450

Family Court

The Family Court website provides helpful information about family violence and the legal options available to keep families safe.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/family/family-violence

New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on family violence and protection orders.

Website: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/family-violence

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