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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

Changes to the Crimes Act introduced in 2012 mean that 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 end of this chapter.

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Family violence and elder abuse

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Age Concern


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

Phone: (04) 801 9338 or 0800 65 2 105
Email: national.office@ageconcern.org.nz

Elder Abuse Response Service (EARS)

Helpline: 0800 32 668 65

With this confidential 24-hour, free-phone helpline, registered nurses will listen and provide information and support about elder abuse – whether the caller is calling on their own behalf or is concerned about a friend or family member. Callers will then be referred to local elder abuse services to get the help they need.

Family Court


This Family Court webpage provides pamphlets and other information giving an overview of how family violence is dealt with in the courts and how Protection Orders can help keep people safe from family violence. The website also provides information on responding to a Protection Order application.

You can access the pamphlets online, or you can order hard copies by contacting the Family Court on:

Phone: 0800 587 847
Email: publications@justice.govt.nz

Family Court family violence forms

These forms, and a guide for how to complete a Protection Order application, are available at www.justice.govt.nz/family/family-violence/protection-order-forms

Family Court fee waiver forms

These forms are available here:


Independent Police Conduct Authority


Postal Address: PO Box 5025, Wellington 6145

Phone: (04) 499 2050
Phone: 0800 503 728

Email: info@ipca.govt.nz

The IPCA receives and investigates complaints against the police. A complaint form is available online.

“Family violence” (Law Society pamphlet)

Available at: www.lawsociety.org.nz/about-us/about-our-publications/law-awareness-brochures

Access pamphlets online or order hardcopies from the New Zealand Law Society.

Phone: (04) 472 7837
Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

Women’s Refuge


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

Crisis Line

Phone: 0800 REFUGE (0800 733 843)

Women’s Refuge provides a free phone line for people anywhere in New Zealand. Get information, advice and support about family violence as well as help in a crisis.

Fact sheets

A range of resources and fact sheets are available online.

Phone: (04) 802 5078
Email: info@refuge.org.nz

Family Violence – It’s Not OK


Phone: 0800 456 450

“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. It’s not OK is an initiative housed within the Ministry of Social Development.

Family violence and disabled people


Family violence and migrant families


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