Power cut – the problems with power of attorney

by , Lead Investigative Researcher Money 16 October 2012
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Power of attorney should make life easier for incapacitated people and their friends or family but, in practice, that’s still not yet happening. When will the story change?

Cable being cut

Since last writing about power of attorney (PoA), we’ve again investigated the issue. We hoped to find that providers had responded to our criticisms and amended their ways. Unfortunately, while we found some improvements, there are still ways to go before you can be sure of receiving correct advice and good service.

It appears that far too many bank staff don’t understand some of the key requirements and rights surrounding PoA. Central to this is the tenure that an attorney must be treated as if they were the person they’re acting for. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it? The answer should be a resounding ‘no’. But that’s not what we found.

Power of attorney failings

On several occasions we were told that the person the attorney is acting on behalf of (the donor) needs to participate in the registration process. The whole point of PoA is to relieve the donor of all or some of their responsibilities, perhaps due to mental or physical incapacity, or simply because they no longer feel up to the job of managing their finances. Stipulating that the donor must attend a branch or sign forms isn’t on.

Likewise, restricting access to certain benefits or processes is downright wrong. In our investigation some fieldworkers were told that they couldn’t open or close accounts, use debit cards or bank online.

Today those are all essential requirements, and not only for the sake of convenience (especially with branch closures). Not allowing an attorney to open or close accounts or denying access to online banking could leave a donor’s cash languishing in an inferior account.

‘Shambolic’ treatment?

Our findings echo many of the comments you’ve made in response to our previous power of attorney Convos. For instance, Charlotte told us:

‘There is no excuse for the current deliberately shambolic treatment of people who have abided by the law to help out a friend or relative, often whilst physically exhausted from looking after the care needs of the same person.’

Commenter ‘Glasgow Resident’ has also had a bad experience:

‘Trying to open new accounts to get better interest rates has been really problematic. Branches were unwilling to accept the PoA form and actually asked if I could not just guide my mother’s signature (she cannot write following a stroke).’

The human impact when providers don’t act in accordance with the law on PoA can be frustrating and distressing. It needs addressing, and for this reason we’re meeting with the banking industry and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). The OPG is working with the leading banks and building societies to improve policy and practice, with new guidance due to be published.

Let’s hope that the next time we write about PoA here on Which? Conversation, we’ll be talking about the positive change that the joint OPG and banking industry guidance has achieved, and not just more of the same.

93 comments

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Ali

I wonder if my experience with EPA is unique? I had EPA for both my parents. The solicitor advised splitting the joint bank accounts, this was a good idea that I’d not thought of. All the accounts were in the Trowbridge Wiltshire branch of Natwest.
Natwest could not have been more helpful. I sat down with the manager, it was very busy when I went in without an appointment, and went through all the accounts they had. We ended up with a deposit account and a current account each for them. This was all that was needed.
Bank cards and cheque books arrived in days not months and I was helped setting up online banking.
The whole process was very easy and painless.
I’m sorry for everyone who has had awful problems but for me it worked well. This is a few years ago now but my recollections are showing the EPA to people and being able to do what I needed. I had to post it to pension providers and they posted it straight back.

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Carolyn W

I have a POA for both my parents, as my father has dementia and my mother macular degeneration and is registered blind. Their bank accounts are with Nationwide and I do all their banking online with no problem at all, as I keep possession of my father’s debit card, and have even opened a new online savings account which paid a slightly better rate of interest. I had no problem with the bank accepting the POAs.

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Terry

I needed to take on management of my partner’s affairs after she had a stroke at age 60. This left her fully cognisant but unable to speak, handle finance or use keyboard. I had to take over.
Joint accounts were no problem but legalising the process with other accounts and items were often beset with difficulties.
I made representations to the banks and organisations and sought help from Age UK and Stroke Association – all advised that the only method is through the PoA registered with the OPG. I obtained the forms and applied.
The forms are complicated and I remonstrated with the OPG to no effect. Solicitors quoted £1000 to £1800 to do it. Add to that the OPG cost of £300. Advisers rarely mention that fact.
In case of my death I needed to arrange an replacement attorney in Germany, where my partner’s only remaining family live. I was 80 at the time and wanted to set up a family member on a joint account to ease financial management in event of my sudden demise. Only HSBC would do it, despite us having accounts with other leading British banks at the time. The process took me one year, because of the need to post documents to and from Europe and get witnessed signatures that met the restrictive requirements of the OPG.
I asked everyone if there was a simpler method of legalising account management and was always referred to the LPA on the basis that it is the only option. Later with great annoyance I found that a simple General Power of Attorney is all that one needs to manage financial affairs. It costs nothing (unless you buy the form online for ca.£20), consists of one page and requires only a witnessed donors signature. The witness can be almost anyone. Noone told me about that and you don’t mention it either.
Another thing is that the OPG forms state that the Health & Welfare LPA cannot be used until the donor becomes incapable. Recently I asked the OPG who would be needed to certify that the donor had become incapable. After tedious discussion I finally found someone who was confident enough to explain that the attorney needs only to inform the OPG that that is the case! This is not explained anywhere, to my knowledge.
My compliments on your efforts but there is more to be done to make this whole mess clear to those hard pressed carers like correspondent Charlotte, me any many others.
The OPG has not succeeded in providing a safe process for ‘donors’ but has ensured another source of income for the legal profession by making it so complicated. T. Noble.

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Terry

I made a long submission earlier today. I meant to mention that I remember seeing in bank conditions the peculiar note that POA did not allow online access. I ignored it but it did give difficulty when I could not access the site for some technical reason!
I am doubtful that my earlier contribution actually got submitted – it may have been too long and subject to time-out or something. Thks. TJNoble

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Carolyn Williamson

Further to Terry’s and other people’s problems with online banking, it may be slightly underhand, but the bank has no idea who is accessing the account once the user has registered themselves for online banking. I was, with my parents’ permission even before I had the POAs, doing most of their banking online for them. As long as you know the necessary personal information, account number, etc., it is very easy to get online access.

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Granville

When I asked the Nationwide about online access to my parent’s account the advisor said ‘just sign on as your father’. I’ve no idea of the legality of all this, but it’s time, given our ageing population, that this whole business was properly sorted.

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jackie

I am the POA for my mum who has severe dementia. It was registered back in 2004 and we continue to have problems with the banking system. Our has mainly been the Halifax although other banks / building societies have been no better. I think each bank needs a specialised dept to deal woth POAs so that we can soeak to a person competent in dealing with the system. I recently had to give my mum’s address to a savings advisor. I explianed time and time again that she had severe dementia and why did they need it as I was the point of contact. I have now discovered that the Halifax has sent letters to my mum in her care home reminding her of appointments I have arranged to discuss her finances! I want to bang my head on a brick wall!
In the past I have offered to speak to advisors from the Halifax about it to share my experiences and improve the system (rather than just complaining). Nobody got back to me which says something about their attitude towards it. I shall turn up for my mums appointment tomorrow and no doubt have to go through the whole process again. I’ll let you know!

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metroace

Just setting out on EPA for my in-laws. This makes interesting and worrying reading.

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BobQ

I have POA for my Mum. With Nationwide I switched her ISA in Branch with no problems whatsoever without her present. Santander in branch are great too, their helpline staff lack training.

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roseali

My sister and I have joint financial and property lasting power of attorney for our father who is now in a care home. We have registered this with his bank Nationwide. Initially went well but have been waiting for 8 weeks for a cheque book. First we discovered the bank had logged our father as dead, and now they have refused to give us a cheque book as we have joint attorney and they claim we cannot have one as need two signatures on a cheque. My sister and I live 40 miles apart and both work full time so getting into the bank together is near on impossible.

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Mike b

This does not make sense .As a former banker and lawyer I know joint account holders can have a cheque book even if both must sign .Much easier if powers are made on a joint and several basis

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Eleanor D

I know this commentary is about PoA and I am a registered Deputy but my experiences mirror many here. My mother has Alzheimer’s and so I had to apply to the CoP to become a Deputy, a long and expensive process when she became so ill she needed to go into a home. During the “waiting time” I continued to use her Debit Card (she had given it to me months before as I managed her day-to-day expenses and paid her bills from her account). As soon as the Deputyship came through I contacted her bank (Northern Rock) and took the relevant forms into them. However the counter assistant refused to accept the forms, but it resulted in the debit card being stopped and a block put on her account. I ended up making the journey to head office and refusing to leave until I saw a member of their legal team. Everything was, as I thought, sorted and I was told that I would receive a new card and access to her account but it would take a couple of weeks for the computer to be updated!!! Then I found that while I had a debit card it could not be used for transactions or getting money out of the machine, merely as an ID for her account at the bank. I found I had no bother with utilities, insurers or government departments using my Deputy documents but the banks were another matter. I pointed out that my mother had a weekly personal allowance to be spent on things for her and I was having to use my own money then call into the bank to get money out – not always convenient. The Rock suggested I open an account in my name and get the allowance transferred to that, which I did but the CoP were not happy about it (and I could see why) so that stopped. I tried to open an account for her at my bank, which would have allowed me online banking and a Debit Card, but they wanted utility bills as proof of my mother’s address and refused to take a letter from the care home saying she was a resident there. As a result, her account is still with the Rock/Virgin and I am still not happy. Her allowance is now paid into a cash ISA ;I buy her the things she needs, pay for them myself then have to call into the branch and draw the money out of her ISA (it is the only thing that will give me money when I need it rather than have to give notice or send a letter). I pay all my utility bills by Direct Debit using a paperless system, use online banking, do not drive, have no passport – as far as banks go I do not exist. All my mother’s documentation for her pensions etc get sent to me and only some of them mention her address at the care home so the banks will not accept them as ID. This makes the whole idea of my being able to manage her financial affairs a sham and the CoP are no real help – all they seem to do is put up her yearly fees and send out newsletters that have become bigger and more glossy over the years. I am thinking of going along the POA route for myself as I am in my sixties and hope that my daughter’s experiences when she has to look after my financial affairs will not be like mine with my mother’s. It is a stressful enough experience when someone goes into care, having to sort through their effects and sell their property as though they were dead, without it being added to by the banks. I needed Prozac – how many others have needed the same?

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Mike b

As aretired professional I can say that without a PoA it is hard to cope often a nightmare and extremely expensive.We all owe it to our families to provide them with PoAs why take the risk?Its a bit like house insurance you don’t want to claim but its there in case.Much more important than making wills which are often irrelevant but that’s what most clients came to see me about

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Troy

I really hate this power of attorney malarky, I really do! :(

The banks don’t know their ‘arris from their elbow and that’s a fact!

Just acquired LPA for my Mum’s finances. She is in an EMI care home up north, has been since July, and is self-funding. I’m down south. I asked Mum to let me apply because I was concerned about her care fees being paid and the bills on her property should they arise, although it’s not entirely certain whether she’ll be there permanently, she has a Deprivation of Liberties Safeguard slapped on her for three further months because she’s very vocal about wanting to go home. No one thinks she will survive back home but she wouldn’t allow me to take out health and welfare LPA as she believes she isn’t ill (schizophrenia) only financial, but then she’s fixated on getting her bills paid.

So up until about November my sister, whose name is on Mum’s savings bank books, was paying for her care fees. Due to a big family row she said she wanted nothing more to do with Mum and also said there was no more money in Mum’s accounts to pay the fees. She owed the care home about three months’ fees. She hasn’t rung Mum in the home, nor has she been to visit. We’ve also fallen out due to separate issues. I managed to get the bank books from her and there was enough in one account to pay the arrears, so I went up to Liverpool on a workday, took Mum to the bank and we got the cheque for the home. I couldn’t tell what was left in the other accounts without the LPA. I applied in October and was registered last week.

I was led to believe that my sister was merely a third party signatory on the accounts because one of the passbooks specifies this and her daughter said she wasn’t a joint account holder. When I went to the Halifax on Friday to register I was told she was a joint account holder and I would need her permission to access the account!

Unhappy about this, I complained to the Halifax, but no joy. My argument that I was representing my mother’s interests and not my sister’s and that my sister pays nothing into the accounts didn’t wash. Apparently it should have been stipulated in the attorney document that my sister would agree to grant permission, but as it is I have to wait for her to sign a blasted form granting permission. I’m waiting for it to come back – if it does. I copied in my other sister who lives abroad and who is my deputy (the three of us aren’t speaking full-stop!)

If them’s the rules for JA, them’s the rules, but I feel like sticking two fingers up to the banks and jumping online anyway. I have bills to pay. The council have funded her care while I’ve waited for LPA.

[QUOTE]‘When I asked the Nationwide about online access to my parent’s account the advisor said ‘just sign on as your father’. I’ve no idea of the legality of all this, but it’s time, given our ageing population, that this whole business was properly sorted.’[QUOTE]

It’s fraud plain and simple…still, if that’s what customer services says, go for it.

Yet Mum’s pension accumulation and future pension gets paid to my account from DWP!

??????

At the end of the day the OPG will land on us like a ton of bricks if we abuse the money, so what’s the banks’ problem? We are merely paying for care and bills, that’s it. I am owed some money for her property insurance and my husband is owed for paying for the LPA, but that’s all. I am going to keep scrupulous receipts of outgoings in case of enquiry.

One comfort is that it’s not just me suffering this indignity. You try to do your best for your loved one and it’s not made easy by any means.

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James Kitto

I am a retired professional manager and my wife of 43 years a retired Doctor who suffers Brain/Frontal Lobe damage. Knowing what problems lay ahead my wife made Power of Attorney to me and our son in 2005. She has been Dols the last two years and having won our arguement against an NHS Trust through the Court of Protection to allow her home two days a week, we now have her installed in a very good Care Home. The last gave appalling care. NatWest, having advised that her investment was maturing, now refuse to release details/update that investment having received a copy of the POA from me. They say ‘when we receive the original copy of the POA documents we will begin the process of updating any holdings held in the name of – - – ‘, [my wife].
Other institutes have accepted, why not this Bank? Can you advise?

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Granville

Hi,

You could threaten the bank with the ombudsman, but on the other hand a copy certified by a solicitor may be acceptable. Or perhaps you could offer to take the original documents into a branch who could make a copy certified by a staff member.

Good luck

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Julian

Get the solicitor to certify every page of a copy of the POA. If NatWest remain obstinate, complain and if not resolved after 6 weeks contact the FSO.

Confirm all communication with NatWest in writing, this can then be passed on to the FSO if necessary.

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mike

This sometimes happens and is based on some rules designed to stop fraud .The safest solution is to have the EPA registered and request a court certified copy but this will take time and money and the bank may allow you to take the original in to be copied in your presence.An unregistered EPA does not have to be accepted

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Eileen

A pre 2007 EPA does have to be accepted. We used one with no problems at several financial institutions until Mum lost capacity. (We used it to register Dad’s death and whilst Mum was in hospital following an accident). When she lost capacity we registered it with the OPG and let the banks/bs have
a copy of the now registered form.

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Alison

It’s now 2014 and I’ve just written our 3rd letter of formal complaint about banks and POA. My sister and I have joint and several POA for our mother living at home with dementia ( dad died last year). We started the process in March 2012, and I would echo many of the previous writers’ frustrations . Ours include initial delay causing problems with paying for care,lack of online banking (RBS),not permitting one attorney to cancel direct debits of £100, writing to the deceased after we had informed them, lack of understanding about the difficulty of 2 attorneys, living in Leeds and Cheshire and engaged in hands on caring in York while juggling jobs and other family commitments needing to be both present in a bank for tedious and much repeated passport/utility bill (when we,re all online? , so unrealistic!!) routine. Worst recently though, was a scary letter sent directly to 90 yr old mum ( in spite of 2 years of trying to tell them to only use Attorneys addresses etc) saying there was a problem with her a/c and she shd go to bank with her passport etc etc. We think this was in response to our simple little request for online banking. AAAAAAAH! Dementia is challenging enough ( ” who’s stolen the teaspoons? What’s that woman doing in my house ? (Re The lovely carer), what’s my number. Where’s my handbag etc etc) without the banks actually causing more grief both to their loyal but now vulnerable customer and their shredded carers. HOW CAN ALL THIS CHANGE?

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Mike

Alison as I said in my last post it should help if you have thePOA registered.

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Anna

That is when your problems really start. Banks haven’t got a clue. It is a nightmare.

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D Cowan

Hi I am writing regarding my dilemma . My dad has Alzheimer’s / Dementia, I am POA and have been told by him to deal with his accounts, so after paying all bills, food , housekeeping ect I move money to another account as he is going into the bank and withdrawing money and losing it.His instructions are I can use the money for anything, to help out family , Anyway while I was on holiday he approached the bank and made accusations that I was taking all his money and he was not happy, the bank knowing he has Alzheimer’s listened to him, did not contact me regarding this situation, worse to come, they reported it to POA department and now they are investigating , my dad now says it is a big misunderstanding , I myself are very concerned with the way the bank handled this situation and when I contacted the manager, she told me I was on holiday and they could not contact me, also another point is my dad did not return to the bank for another meeting, he has told me he told the bank it was a mistake, but they have gone ahead and reported it, What is my position regarding this situation! I am extremely stressed about this whole situation.My dad can’t remember if he signed any letter agreeing for the investigation to go ahead.

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mike

I assume you have a registered LPA which is on the Banks records.Seems that they are still recognising him as their customer not you as usual and being alerted to possible fraud not taking any chances.Unfortunately its difficult to get them to change and take any risk due to the high level of fraud

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George

hi , my sister & myself have power of attorney over my father who has dementia and he is in a care home , now the care home is asking for the power of attorney !!! Why is this !! Answers please , thanks

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Granville

Hi,

Maybe the home just wants a copy of your PoA to keep on file. That wouldn’t be unusual, as quite a few bodies ask for a copy of the PoA. Banks, building socs, finance depts and so on. You and your sister remain the attorneys – only you can change that.

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Liz

They may want to know if it is a health or financial POA – We had this recently as my mum’s care home had applied for DOLS and we were not happy with the circumstances. They wanted to know in order to establish what our and mum’s rights were (very few I might add!).

Hi George, thanks for your comment. Our Elderly Care website has information on the different types of power of attorney, which may be helpful to you:

http://www.which.co.uk/elderly-care/financing-care/managing-your-relatives-financial-affairs/343092-power-of-attorney-in-england-and-wales

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