Lasting Power of Attorney – in ‘urgent need of reform’

Research led by the consumer champion, Which? has suggested the Lasting Power of Attorney system is in desperate need of change.

Which’s survey, a questionnaire of 2,000 people UK-wide, showed there is widespread confusion about Lasting Power of Attorney works and that banks often put barriers in the way of people attempting to register as attorneys.

Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document that allows one person to make decisions on behalf of another if that person loses their mental capacity to do so, but it can only be registered while that person still has their mental capacity. Which?’s survey found evidence that many people did not know that registering for an LPA after someone had lost capacity was too late.

Lower understanding among younger people

In the survey, young people and those on lower incomes revealed lower understanding of LPAs than others – 26 percent of people aged 18 to 34 and one in five (20 percent) of those who earn under £21,000 a year said they did not know what power of attorney was, compared to 7 percent of those aged over 55 and one in 10 (10 percent) of those who earn over £56,000.

One in six (16 percent) thought wrongly that an individual loses access to their financial accounts once the legal document is registered. Which? thought this might explain why only one in seven (15 percent) people said they would give someone else power of attorney over their affairs.

Among those questioned who did not have an LPA, 70 percent said they were healthy so they didn’t need one, while 77 percent thought one could be set up at any time – again, an incorrect assumption.

Complexities of the process

Another Which? survey found that the issues reported for more than 8,000 of its members with a registered LPA were a lack of knowledge among staff (60 percent), complexities in the process (38 percent) and delays (28 percent).

Almost a third of people with registered LPAs, 31 percent, said banks were the most difficult to deal with, with claims of lost documents and failures to explain the registration process or require those trying to do so to make unnecessary trips to the bank.

The consumer champion said it heard from people who were asked to register at a bank’s branch even during the pandemic and even where online registration was possible.

Attorney problems

The research has also shown that attorneys experience problems when registering with banks or other financial institutions, with some not authorising full access to a donor’s account even after completing the registration process.

Last year, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) launched a consultation on modernising LPAs. The consultation looked at how technology can be used to reform the process of witnessing, improving access, and speeding up the service, as well as widening the OPG’s legal powers to check identities and stop or delay any registrations that raise concern.

Which? said the proposals urgently need to be acted upon.

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