Delays and complications mean that it is taking up to 20 weeks to set up powers of attorney. The process is lengthy and can be hard to navigate, and families often have their applications rejected.
There is hope, however, that the system for granting lasting powers of attorney is about to become easier. The government says that the system needs updating, and the Ministry of Justice and Office of Public Guardian (OPG) are speaking to banks and legal firms to find ways to make the process better.
So, what changes are being discussed?
Let people sign online
One proposal is to allow remote signing of LPAs. This could involve allowing applicants to video themselves signing a form or groups signing together over Zoom or Facetime.
It can be tricky having bits of paper that need to be signed and dated in the correct order - which is vital for an LPA. You can start an LPA application online but for it to be valid, it has to be printed off and signed in the correct order, otherwise it could be delayed for months.
Cut waiting times
Once you have posted all the documents they will sit with the OPG for at least 4 weeks, even if everything is correct, because there is a statutory waiting period designed to give everyone involved in the process a chance to object. Experts say that this delay is unnecessary and people can object to an LPA at any time by contacting the OPG. The government is being encouraged to produce clearer guidance about what someone can do if they are worried about undue influence.
Fast-track urgent cases
Delays in processing LPAs can be particularly stressful if someone has a condition that progresses quickly. A service that would allow for urgent action is under discussion, but the government has yet to confirm what situations would qualify.
Create a digital pass
Banks, building societies and other financial firms can take several weeks to accept LPAs, often asking for paper documents, which adds to the delays. One way round this would be to create an online system with a digital pass that can share information, instead of having to provide documents to multiple companies.
It can take some institutions many weeks to register an attorney, and in the meantime access to their funds is usually stopped. The new online LPA system being rolled out is designed to make interaction with banks, building societies and other financial institutions easier and more efficient.
Stop freezing accounts
One policy that could be banned is the banks' ability to freeze a person's debit and credit cards the moment an LPA is registered. This is often a real inconvenience and leaves people without access to funds, especially if it takes weeks for the attorney to get access.
Create a level playing field
There is talk of forcing all service companies to deal with LPAs in the same way. As it stands, an attorney may find it easy to deal with the donor's electricity supplier, but impossible to pay their TV licence, for example.
Some banks will ask whether the donor had mental capacity at the time the LPA was sent to them. However, a donor's mental capacity could change daily, meaning they are able to manage their accounts on some days but not others. What the banks should be asking is whether the donor still needs access to their own funds and, if so, they should then issue additional cards.
Set up dedicated teams
While many bigger companies have teams for dealing with families of bereaved customers, or those with an LPA, this is not a requirement.
Many firms need to improve the way they deal with vulnerable customers, including training staff in call centres to deal with LPAs. Vulnerable customers and those with power of attorney can sometimes face lengthy delays in being registered with the accounts of an incapacitated person and this needs to improve.
If you need help navigating the LPA system, or have any questions about setting LPAs up for yourself or a family member, please get in touch.