ALLEGATIONS of abuse of elderly and vulnerable people in Blackburn and Darwen have gone up by a third in the past year.

And council bosses have been warned that the apparent increase in the abuse of cared-for adults, from 180 to 240 incidents last year, could be "the tip of the iceberg".

The incidents involve elderly people in council or private care or who are looked after by relatives or carers and some of the incidents have been deemed serious enough to be referred to the police Brian Todd, of Blackburn with Darwen Older People's Forum, said the true number of cases was likely to be much higher.

He said: "It's likely to be much more than the figures they've got, because you only hear about the extremes.

"The older people's forum is concerned about the increase in abuse, and often it's things the rest of the world doesn't recognise as abuse. A lot of it is financial, like not giving people their change back, and taking advantage when people get confused.

"Vulnerable adults of all ages need to be treated with some respect."

Council chiefs said the increase is because more incidents, ranging from physical abuse by carers to theft of money, are being reported because of a publicity campaign.

But Coun Maureen Bateson said: "It's a difficult situation, and it's on the increase.

"It could be that more people are reporting it, but it's a worrying trend "As people live longer and become more frail there are unfortunately people who will take advantage of it."

But Coun David Foster, executive member for adult social care, said: "We are trying to make this issue more high-profile so more people are reporting it.

"But it is something we need to keep an eye on, and if it continues to grow at this rate we will need to look at it very carefully.

"This only concerns a very small minority of carers, but we have to make sure we monitor it."

He said extra funding was being set aside to protect vulnerable adults.

Blackburn with Darwen council recently commissioned a drama company to highlight the issue of adult abuse.

And the Lancashire Safeguarding Agenda, a county-wide agreement with the police and NHS bodies, was launched by Lancashire County Council this month.

It includes a dedicated phoneline, website and leaflet to raise awareness.

A report presented to Blackburn with Darwen's executive board councillors said complaints to the council's safeguarding adults team increased from about 20 to about 80 a year between 2000 and 2005.

It says the increase in referrals is proving a burden on the council's adult social care team and solicitors, and handling the 240 cases in 2006/07 would cost £300,000.

A safeguarding manager', funded jointly by the council and Blackburn with Darwen Primary Care Trust, is set to be appointed alongside three officers. The new team will cost £174,000.