‘Shockingly low’ conviction rate for elder abuse

‘Shockingly low’ conviction rate for elder abuse

Less than one per cent of abuse of older people results in a criminal conviction, lower than hate crimes and domestic abuse, according to expert analysis.

The vast majority – over 99% – of abusers who target older people are going unpunished, according to an analysis of official crime figures by campaigners Action on Elder Abuse.

Despite an estimated 413,500 people aged 65 or over in England and Wales experiencing some form of abuse each year – ranging from neglect and fraud to physical and sexual assaults – the analysis found that the number of successful criminal convictions in 2015/16 (3,012) represents just 0.7% of total prevalence.

This is a lower proportion than for racially motivated crimes (10.3%), homophobic and transphobic crimes (4.2%), domestic abuse (3.8%) and disability hate crime (1%) (see table below).

Action on Elder Abuse is currently campaigning for a law change and has set up a Parliamentary petition (number 132323) calling for elder abuse to be recognised as an aggravated offence, similar to hate crimes.

The charity has branded the inadequacy of official statistics on crimes against older people when compared to hate crimes a “reporting apartheid”.

It points to the fact that police forces and the Home Office do not publish a breakdown of offences against older people, in contrast to the much more detailed reporting for victims of racially-motivated crime and domestic abuse.

And while the Crown Prosecution Service details conviction rates for crimes against older people in its annual report on hate crime, it admits that there is “no statutory definition of a crime against an older person and no specific legislation”.

Sections 145 and 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provide for a sentencing uplift in cases of racist and religious crime, homophobic and transphobic crime and disability hate crime, do not apply to crimes against an older person unless the crime also falls into one of these other categories.

AEA argues that the deficiencies in official statistics relating to abuse of older people have a knock-on effect across the justice system, with crimes against older people either ignored entirely or treated with less seriousness than crimes against other groups.

The charity pointed to a recent Freedom of Information request it had made to the 44 police forces across the UK asking how many cases of elder abuse and neglect had been given a police caution instead of referral for prosecution.

Of the 44, 40 declined to answer, saying the crimes spanned too many categories and citing “lack of resources” to produce a report. Of the four forces that did answer:

  • Two said they had recorded no elder abuse or neglect cases in a whole year
  • One had made 21 referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  • And one force that had investigated 76 elder abuse or neglect crimes had issued 76 police cautions, with not one single case reaching court.

Action on Elder Abuse operates a confidential helpline (080 8808 8141) offering advice and support on all aspects of elder abuse.

Action on Elder Abuse Chief Executive, Gary FitzGerald, said:

“Our research suggests that while hundreds of thousands of older people will experience some form of abuse each year in the UK, the number of crimes resulting in a conviction is shockingly low.

“There’s also a disturbing reporting apartheid when it comes to the simple act of recording crimes against older people. The attitude we too often encounter from public bodies amounts to an institutional ageism that seems to want to airbrush the problem away.

“Nobody disputes that people can be victimised because of their race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. But our justice system still refuses to accept that people are often targeted by criminals because of their age and perceived vulnerability.

“While perpetrators of racist crimes can expect a tougher sentence if convicted, that’s not the case with crimes against older people. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that offenders are frequently being let off with a slap on the wrist, even in cases of major fraud, physical beatings and even sexual assaults.

“To give older victims and their families the confidence that their suffering will be taken seriously, we need specific legislation making elder abuse an aggravated offence under criminal law.”

Victim/crime type Estimated prevalence


Police recorded data (2015/16) Referrals to CPS



(CPS, 2015/16)

Convictions as proportion of estimated prevalence
Older people (aged 65 and over)


414,000* Not published 4,305 3,012 0.7%
Racially motivated


106,000 49,419 10,728 10,920 10.3%
Religiously motivated


38,000 4,400 573 583 1.5%


29,000 8,052 1,339 1,219 4.2%


70,000 3,629 930 707 1%
Domestic abuse


1,900,000 943,628 122,898 75,235 4.0%

*England and Wales only

– ENDS –



  1. Prevalence of elder abuse

The paucity of information in official statistics means an estimate for the total prevalence of elder abuse must be calculated based on published academic studies. The most comprehensive such study, UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People (O’Keeffe et al, 2007, Comic Relief/Department of Health), based on qualitative interviews with more than 3,000 older people, estimated an overall mid-range prevalence rate of 4% of people aged over 65 experiencing some form of abuse – including financial, physical, psychological, sexual or neglect. Abuse will very often constitute one or more specific criminal offences. Referring to ONS data for the number of people aged 65 and over in the UK population (11.6 million, out of a total mid-year 2015 UK population estimate of 65.1 million) suggests that there are approximately 465,000 victims of elder abuse in the UK each year. This breaks down as:

  • UK: 464,500 victims of abuse
  • England and Wales: 413,500
  • England: 388,500
  • Wales: 25,000
  • Scotland: 39,500
  • Northern Ireland: 11,500

This is likely to be a conservative estimate.

A secondary analysis of the 2007 study carried out by King’s College London and the National Centre for Social Research, published in 2015, found that when the definition was broadened to include abuse perpetrated by neighbours and acquaintances (in addition to friends, family and carers), and when any single incident of psychological abuse or neglect was counted, increased the estimated prevalence rate to 8.6% of the population. This higher prevalence rate would increase the number of victims per year to 998,560.

  1. Prevalence/conviction rates of hate crimes and domestic abuse

Prevalence rates for hate crimes (racially, religiously, disability or sexual orientation motivated), derived from data captured in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and police recorded data, are estimated by the Home Office in its annual statistical bulletin on the subject: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/467366/hosb0515.pdf

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) provides a breakdown of hate crime convictions and convictions for crimes against older people in its annual report on the subject: http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/cps_hate_crime_report_2016.pdf

Information about domestic abuse prevalence and convictions is also published by the Crown Prosecution Service on its website: http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/latest_news/vawg_report_2016/


About Action on Elder Abuse

Action on Elder Abuse is a UK-wide charity with a presence in all four nations. It aims to protect and prevent the abuse of vulnerable older people by raising awareness of the issues, encouraging education and giving information and support to those in need. It has the only national freephone helpline (Elder Abuse Response) dedicated to this cause, open Monday to Friday between the hours of 9.00am and 5.00pm on 080 8808 8141 for confidential support and information.


For further information, please contact James Tout at Journalista on 07989 610 276 or james@journalista.co.uk.

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