Elder abuse is a growing problem and the offending is often perpetrated by family members. One Oamaru woman breaks her silence on the extreme financial and psychological abuse she suffered by her granddaughter. Ruby Heyward reports.
For Molly, it was a scary experience, wrapped with feelings of shame and financial road blocks, but it was also the best thing that happened to her.
For two years, the 70-year-old Oamaru woman, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, struggled with growing debts after the loss of her main income and financial exploitation by her granddaughter.
It all started when she agreed to extend an existing loan to assist her granddaughter, who was moving cities with her boyfriend.
Although she was warned against it, Molly thought her granddaughter was honest and she wanted to help her out.
Coming to an “internal arrangement”, she lent her granddaughter $11,000 and was promised it would be paid back over time.
“She promised me beyond all promises that she would pay me back,” she said.
Things got worse for Molly when she was forced to leave her employment at 69, due to an existing health problem.
“I was getting a pension and a good wage, then my income went straight down.”
She had gone from a financial security that allowed her to lend money, to getting behind on “everything”.
Every time she approached her granddaughter about repayments, she was met with an onslaught of profanity.
“It was the awfulness of how she spoke to me.
“She completely let me down. I was left with nothing.”
Relying solely on the pension, Molly’s debts had snowballed so much that she could only dedicate $50 a fortnight to food.
She pleaded with her granddaughter to give her at least $10 a week so she could eat.
Her granddaughter changed her phone number.
Then, the phone calls started coming from the banks and services to which Molly owed money.
Every time the phone rang a panic washed over her.
“Here I am, a person who has looked after myself pretty well, being frightened of my phone.”
Even when she was able to meet monthly bill payments, she could not keep up with the building interest.
Unsure of what to do, Molly went to Work and Income New Zealand, and was referred to the North Otago Budget Advisory Service.
Financial mentor Mary Bulatao advised her to file bankruptcy.
“We put it all on paper to see the financial reality and asked Bulatao said.
Molly’s debts – as high as $63,000 at one point – exceed the threshold needed to declare bankruptcy.
They had the difficult task of processing her bankruptcy during last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, but once it was done, Molly’s debts were wiped.
“The phone calls stopped,” Molly said.
It meant she was unable to take out any more loans, could not travel, and had to find a new bank that would allow her to hold an account.
Mrs Bulatao was able to deal with banks on Molly’s behalf and secured an account for her pension to go into.
“I’ll be out of it in three years,” Molly said.
“It’s given me my life back.”
For Molly, “pride” initially held her back from seeking help.
She said many of her friends thought financial assistance was not for them and would just “go through the cruelties”.
“These older ladies are not managing well, but they don’t know they can ask for help.”
Mrs Bulatao said the North Otago Budget Advisory Service was not dictatorial or judgemental.
“We are here to help people find their best options and work with them.”
She encouraged people to ask for help early.
“It’s hard to help someone who is too far in.”
With her bills all on track – and being close to paying the second of her three secured debts – Molly had a new lease on life.
However, she no longer had a relationship with her granddaughter.
“It’s bad for me. [But] I need to look after myself.”