Liz Booth explains why and how the UK government is proposing to revamp the lasting powers of attorney process
The number of registered lasting powers of attorney (LPA) has increased drastically in recent years to more than five million, but the process of registering one retains many paper-based features that are more than 30 years old.
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed many problems with the existing system as people were unable to access the necessary experts and witnesses.
As Philip Collins, partner at Winckworth Sherwood explains, the extended isolation caused by Covid-19-related lockdowns has created many practical problems as people have had to rely on neighbours, paid helpers and sometimes strangers who have stepped forward or been called on to help with shopping, paying bills, collecting prescriptions and other day-to-day tasks.
He says: “While this has led to new friendships and community connections for many, there is concern that this reliance on others has led to a growing number of cases of both overt and more subtle forms of financial abuse.”
Mr Sherwood adds: “The scale of Covid-related financial abuse is not yet, and may never be, fully known but there is anecdotal evidence that such scams and schemes are increasing. In particular, at Winckworth Sherwood we have begun to receive troubling reports from family members of large sums of money having been taken from their loved ones’ bank accounts, that relatives have been coerced into signing important legal documents and even that they have changed their wills in favour of individuals that they have only recently met.”
He stresses the use of LPAs in preventing such abuse but also highlights the way that has had to change during lockdown.
“The last year has also created challenges for attorneys acting under LPAs, particularly if the attorney lives at a distance from the donor or if the attorney has also been shielding,” he says.
“The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has issued guidance to attorneys, reminding them that their role and responsibilities remain the same during the pandemic and that an attorney is not permitted to temporarily step down during lockdowns and then step back into the role at a later date.
“The OPG has also made it clear that in discharging their duties under an LPA, attorneys must follow government guidance on social distancing and self-isolation, as well as observe any national and local lockdown rules.”
The government has now launched a 12-week consultation, running until 13 October, to examine the process of creating and registering an LPA – with a view to boosting the OPG’s powers to prevent fraud and abuse while introducing a mainly digital service.
It will examine how technology can be used to reform the process of witnessing, improve access and speed up the service. The consultation will also look at making the process for objecting to the registration of an LPA simpler, to help stop potentially abusive or fraudulent LPAs.
The proposed changes will fundamentally alter and update a process that has been in place for decades. While the service will become predominantly digital, alternatives such as paper will remain for those unable to access the internet.
Justice minister Alex Chalk MP says: “A lasting power of attorney provides comfort and security to millions of people as they plan for old age. These changes will make the service quicker to use, easier to access and even more secure from fraud.
“An LPA is a legal document that allows people to appoint someone else (an attorney) to make decisions about their welfare, money or property. They are often used by older people to choose someone they know and trust to make decisions for them were they to lose capacity in the future – but can be made by anyone over the age of 18.”
The consultation comes little more than a year after the OPG launched a new digital service called ‘Use a lasting power of attorney’. As the service allows attorneys to securely share details of their LPA with organisations online, it means they can quickly take action on their loved one’s behalf.
Nick Goodwin, public guardian for England and Wales, says: “More people are taking the vital step to plan for the future by applying for lasting powers of attorney. We want to make sure that it is as safe and simple as possible to do so.
“This consultation puts forward proposals that will allow us to make the service fit for the modern world – one that can be accessed online and that grants the OPG the power to conduct thorough checks to protect against fraud, while making it easier for people to raise concerns.”
Liz Booth is contributing editor of PFP
Image credit | Ikon
UK Government Consultation
The consultation will look at:
- How witnessing works and whether remote witnessing or other safeguards
- are desirable.
- How to reduce the chance of an LPA being rejected due to avoidable errors.
- Whether the OPG’s remit should be expanded to have the legal authority to carry out further checks such as identification verification.
- How people can object to an LPA and the process itself, as well as when is the right time for an objection to be made.
- Whether a new urgent service is needed to ensure those who need an LPA granted quickly can get one.
- How solicitors access the service and the best way to facilitate this.