Will the new digital LPA service help or hinder vulnerable people?
The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) launched a new service last year for digital Lasting Power of Attorneys (LPAs), designed to speed things up by turning paper-heavy processes into newer online services. However, whilst the system will be a welcome reform, we must make sure it still protects vulnerable people from financial abuse.
Following the success of the “Track my LPA” service, which was designed to help those making an LPA online to track progress much more easily, ‘Use A Lasting Power of Attorney’ went live on 17 July 2020.
Now, all LPAs registered after this date will be able to make use of the “Use” service, which allows donors and attorneys to give organisations access to view an online summary of an LPA document. It works by providing the donor and attorneys with an access code when the LPA is registered and they then create an account.
Once active, the donor and attorneys can “link” others to it, such as banks or other organisations, as well as doctors surgeries and hospitals. Access can be granted for up to 30 days to allow any financial transactions, or carry out any treatment.
Whilst the new digital system will be extremely helpful, there are some disadvantages. For example, organisations cannot view the wording of the donor’s wishes, instructions or preferences. A paper copy of the LPA can be requested and sent to the relevant organisation, but if it isn’t, this could result in decisions being made against the donor’s wishes.
The 30 day limit could also increase this risk, as organisations may be tempted to speed up decisions in order to fit the time frame.
What’s more, this new service could allow an attorney to begin using the LPA without the donor’s consent, as a donor is not notified when an attorney creates an account or grants access to the LPA to organisations. This means that it is possible for an attorney to start using the LPA without the knowledge of the donor, perhaps against their wishes. Therefore, there are concerns this new system could open up new chances for financial abuse and safeguarding.
In 2018/19, the OPG made 721 applications to the Court of Protection - a startling rise on the year before. These were cases aimed at removing inappropriate attorneys, who were abusing their position of power, usually for financial gain - so this is a real existing issue.
The system is still new and we believe these problems may be addressed and ironed out, but it will be interesting to see if cases of financial abuse increase with the introduction of the new service, or that it will throw a spotlight on the issue and use it as an opportunity to ask attorneys and organisations more questions to help the safeguarding of individuals.
If you would like some advice relating to your own LPA, or you are interested in seeking advice as to how to draft an LPA or a will, contact the Private Client team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.