Singapore Budget 2015: Legal protection for vulnerable adults and elderly to be strengthened

SINGAPORE - Laws to protect vulnerable adults and seniors will be strengthened this year, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Friday.

First, the Mental Capacity Act will be amended to enhance the powers of the Office of Public Guardian which administers the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) scheme, which enable Singaporeans to appoint someone to make financial and other decisions, such as selling properties and operating bank accounts, for them if they are unable to do so.

Court processes may then be easier, faster and less costly for people to appoint deputies under the Lasting Power of Attorney scheme. For those who have no kin to do so, professional volunteers such as lawyers or social workers can be appointed by the court to act as deputies for them.

"Families need to go to the court to be appointed as deputy and the process can be a laborious and expensive affair," said Mr Chan. He added that others do not have family members or people willing to be their decision-makers. Such seniors may well be able to afford better care but are unable to do so because their assets are locked and they have no access to their savings.

Second, a new law called the Vulnerable Adult Act will be introduced to protect adults who cannot care for themselves or abused by family members.

Under the proposed Vulnerable Adult Act, social workers and other professionals will get the powers to enter the house of a suspected victim to assess the situation and remove him to safety if necessary. Right now, a son could be thrashing his elderly mother every evening, but a social worker cannot step into their home to help without permission. Help workers also have no powers to intervene even if they encounter cases of a frail senior citizen with dementia, living in filth.

The new law will protect people aged 18 and above who are incapable of protecting themselves from harm, due to mental or physical incapacity or disability.

It will complement other key pieces of legislation used for family violence cases, such as the Children and Young Persons Act and the Mental Capacity Act.

jantai@sph.com.sg