Experts Warn Of Rise In Abuse Of Elderly And Vulnerable
A new system that takes lasting powers of attorney completely digital has gotten mixed reviews from expert lawyers, who stress the need for safeguarding the elderly and vulnerable.
The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has today (17 July) unveiled a new digital system for the LPA process, which it says will cut down wait times for the application and when quick decisions are needed for a loved ones’ health or finances.
Previously, the initial application to get an LPA was online, but the process to get checks completed by banks and other organisations was all done on paper. The new system, which comes into effect today (17 July) for new LPA applications, proposes an online ID for the applicant which the organisations can see to speed up the process.
Later life experts at national law firm Irwin Mitchell say a quicker process is welcome, but raises questions about safeguarding and may increase abuse.
Expert Opinion“There are only two ways this can go: faster or disaster. Faster because the process would cut a lot of the red tape around getting LPA applications sorted, and disaster because safeguarding needs are a risk with any digital process, making it ripe for abuse.
“The announcement raises a lot of questions around how the online system would work. The devil is in the detail with this – will communication be properly handled, how it will handle those who aren’t set up for digital yet and the stringency of the process outside just sending financial documents all come to mind.
“Mitigating any risk of more abuse should be front and centre of any changes. We’ve been successful in resisting a fully online service and maintaining wet signatures for this very reason; there’s also the issue that the secure code could be open to abuse, with it being found by someone else and used to get access to sensitive information.” Kelly Greig - Partner
There are two types of LPAs: one for health and welfare, and one for finances. LPA applications are steadily increasing, with data from the Ministry of Justice showing 239,647 LPA applications were received in January to March 2020 — up 5 per cent from the same quarter last year.
Kelly continued: “If the abuse is prolonged, then the situation can lead to an emotionally draining and costly will dispute battle where it’s clear that finances and assets could have been mishandled. We may see more mental capacity-related disputes after death if the system isn’t watertight.
“Anything that is going to speed up the process by which lasting power of attorney documents get noted on the files and the relevant intuitions and they allow you to act is to be welcomed; the current process is far too long to the detriment of the person who’s lost capacity. However, at the heart of this are the elderly and vulnerable who need protecting, and their best interests need to be ring-fenced every step of the way.”