/ Health, Money

Power cut – the problems with power of attorney

Cable being cut

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?

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.

mike b says:
10 January 2015

As an ex banker and retired probate andPOA lawyer I think that th problem is that you do not have power to create financial instruments in her name although surely they would allow you to open an ac in your names as attorneys?Perhaps this is another case of banks not wanting to risk relying on what might be a fraudulent POA.Has it been registered ?Why not ask the Building Society who have the joint ac to help?

amanda zoe says:
12 January 2015

i have had problems with the LPA. Britannia BS took 3 months to open an account. then later when it was closed sent a very large cheque to mum at her dementia home, luckily i happened to visit that day. now NS & I will not accept the certified copy of LPA because it is only stamped and signed on one side of the pages, no other building society or govt. dept has mentioned this in the last 4 years!

Geoff Crabb says:
17 February 2015

I have recently found setting up LPA access to my mother-in-law’s Nationwide accounts to be perfectly straightforward using a certified copy of her registered LPA in which I am named as an attorney (one of three, joint and several). NW have PoA registration forms or the whole process can be done over the counter. I was told, however, that online access was not possible. I have later found that it is possible to register online using mother-in-law’s savings account number, her name and date of birth and the correspondence address (which is mine) . I was informed of this process, having tried unsuccessfully using the long number on my PoA debit card, by a very helpful NW customer support assistant on NW’s main support number. This debit card (only one active card allowed) can also be used to withdraw cash from machines.

Corin Mills says:
20 February 2015

With Lasting Power of Attorney for my mother, registered with the Nationwide Building Society, they are now saying that I can’t operate her Direct Cash ISA online.unless I can prove her to be “mentally deficient”
What a farce!

Erika Cummings says:
24 March 2015

My sister and I are in the middle of getting a POA. We completed all the forms on line about 8 weeks ago. Then they came back requesting a second set of signatures from my sister and I ? We sent it back. Then it came back again as they said that despite our sending them bundles of copies of his pension/pension credit/ confirmation of income/bank details and council tax excemption, they were not the RIGHT documents. We were at a total loss at what else we could send them and so we used our own household bill money to pay for it. We were then told it would be another 8 Weeks.
I tried to explain that my father is at present bed blocking and that social services want him to go home as soon as possible but with adaptions to his bathroom, kitchen, lounge and bed. We cannot pay for these adaptions and so require access to my Fathers bank account to pay for all this. Except we need POA to do this. It is a horrible vicious circle which leaves my Father in a care home that want him out, my father wanting to go home but cannot and my sister on the verge of a breakdown from the stress.
This is supposed to be something that makes the lives of all concerned easier but instead has turned everything into a horrible nightmare.

Tracy Hulme says:
3 May 2015

I have poa for my mum who has alzheimers. My mum and dad made a joint will 3yrs back then dad died so there’s just mum now , she hasn’t changed the will since dad died and she is happy to leave it as it is. My sister last year came over from the USA for a visit and stayed with my mother for 2 weeks. I’m worried that my sister may have got my mum to change her will during her visit, maybe buying a will kit and getting a witness to Co sign. Is this legal for her to do if I am mum’s poa.?

Afternoon Tracy and thanks for your comment – that’s quite a tricky situation you’re in. I’ve been liaising with our experts about your problem and as your mother has alzheimers, she can no longer make a new will. So we believe the old will should stand as the most recent one that’s valid.

However, we’d recommend that it’s worth consulting a solicitor if there’s a family dispute to establish this and the validity of the old will, executors etc.

S Mac says:
1 June 2015

My mother passed away on the 5th May. My sister has or had POA for her finances, today I recieved the usual monthly credit to my account from my mother bank, therefore I assume my sister has not informed mums bank of her passing away, is this fraud?
My sister and I are not on speaking terms

My husband had an enduring POA in place to start using when appropriate and lately applied to Nationwide where his mother, who is of sound mind but very old and frail, banks, to set up POA with them to deal with her finances, so he could do things like pay her carer via online banking so his mother doesn’t have to write, or rather sign cheques every week which scares her because being so old she thinks she has no money. We wanted to make life easier and less stressful for her, but because they won’t allow him to set up online banking and once they provide a debit card and cheque books in his name, his mother can’t use her card or sign any cheques, or indeed have any rights over her own money at all.

Whereas currently I take her into the branch to transfer money between accounts or set up new ISAs etc, and her carer goes to the cashpoint with her to withdraw cash weekly, neither of us will be able to do anything in future and my husband will have to go to the branch himself to run the account, and withdraw cash for her. He can’t even use telephone banking.

When I was researching POAs online, I read this “As long as they retain their mental capacity, the donors of enduring POA can continue to manage their own affairs along with, or instead of , the attorney.”
Not in our experience they can’t!

As a result, rather than making life easier, everyone is worse off so there’s no point registering a POA with Nationwide at all.

Valb says:
16 March 2016

An elderly friend has recently asked me to accept her POA (possibly both). She is married, but doesn’t wish to entrust her husband with her POAs. He currently deals with all her finances and her property portfolio. If I agreed to be her attorney and she later became unfit to monitor her husband’s activities regarding her personal wealth, am I correct in anticipating substantial problems in managing her finances. Would her husband have to relinquish control in my favour? This might be an issue more about relationships than the law, but any pointers you can give me might help me to decide whether to accept my friend’s request.

My son’s father was admitted to care and for that reason he was requested to do PoA by the Social Worker who also asked myself make it “joint” PoA (I have been divorced for over 40 years).
I thought I could help out thinking we only had to sell the father’s flat/pay off mortgage, debts etc.
Little did I realise the amount of work involved. (My son was to do the “welfare” part, and I would do the “financial” part.

When (eventually) the PoA came through I immediately made copies and posted them out to all concerned.
First call was to the Bank. They faxed all details to their Legal Dept. and they refused to pass the P.o.A. because the words “jointly and severally” did not appear – and this was needed by Scottish Law.
I then had to get this rectified before moving on.

Next port of call was the Citizens Advice where I was to return to when PoA was through. This took a full day waiting to speak to someone, but came away none the wiser. I know CAB is run by volunteers but I “assumed” there would be someone to give me legal advice . (They did not ask to see POA Certificate).

I struggled away on my own contacting the Mortgage people/other Debt organisations to try and resolve matters as best as I could. But I am working in the dark, as this is all new and confusing to me.
It makes matters worse as the Father’s flat was a ” Secure Tenancy” arrangement via the Council and Santander. (this was a council flat the father had been in all his life) …… and at the age of 78, took out this “Secure Tenancy” arrangement. This was a 20 year mortgage loan!!

What a nightmare. Its been one problem after another. It has also taken months out of my life not to mention the frustration and confusion.

The PoA does not make things easy for people who are trying to be helpful.

Gmal says:
8 January 2018

I wonder that is it ok to give a family member the permission to use my internet banking services.

OK with who? Maybe with you, but not with your bank, i’d suggest. You can give your security details to anyone you like, but at your own risk. If any transactions are performed contrary to your wishes – or even if your account is misused by someone other than your family member – then you would have no recourse for redress from the bank. only through a legal action of your own, would be my view.

Stephen says:
25 April 2018

I opened 2 Post Office savings accounts under PoA for my wife’s aunt and uncle and transferred money into them from old PO accounts. After her uncle died I informed the PO and was surprised to be told that the new accounts were in my sole name. It’s a good way for me to make money, but not entirely in the spirit of the PoA!

I have been helping a friend who is having a horrendous time. The LPA was added to her account within weeks of being set up and the Bank informed her she had to have permission from her attorney to do anything with her money! She has had to resort to begging them to get any money at times. I cannot understand why the Bank did not ask for proof that she lacked capacity. She has an order of revocation and the Bank refuse to remove the attorneys from her account saying she does not have capacity. She has provided proof of capacity and they are still refusing despite the fact the LPA no longer exists. SInce she is on benefits she cannot afford legal help, she is verging on suicidal and there seems to be little she can do. She has complaints with the bank, the police and Safeguarding but nothing is being done. This is scandalous I feel so helpless. Banks need to be forced to comply with the law for everyone’s sake. They are treating this as a guardianship.
I witnessed the disgusting way she was bullied and intimidated by the staff and when I pointed it out to a member of staff I got the same treatment. How can we protect people from this blatant abuse?

Nicholas creer says:
19 October 2020

Hi Dan Moore
Good Information, for more information please visit,
What forms do I use to make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)?

My 2 Sisters have lpoa for my mum who has Demenia. She is still very lucid, understands what you are saying to her and can make decisions in the moment, but will forget what you have said quite quickly. My mum wants to add me and my Brother to the lpoa. I am her registered livin Carer. However my Sister has the original documents including her Will and will not let my Mum have them and I believe that you need the original documents to amend or revoke. is this correct, how can I get them back for her

Jonathon – I was under the impression that there could be only one person holding the power of attorney at any time in each category [in your mother’s case, is this just for health and welfare decisions or does it include property and financial decisions as well?]. A different attorney can be appointed for each category. A reserve attorney may be appointed to act if the nominated one is unable to act, does not wish to continue to act, or lacks capacity to act. Adding two more will not necessarily achieve any effective change since your sister will remain the duly appointed attorney.

An attorney is required (i) to help the donor [your mother] make their own decisions as much as they can, (ii) to make any decisions in the donor’s best interests, and (iii) to respect their human and civil rights. If you have any concerns over the way your mother’s attorney exercises their power it should be brought to the attention of the Office of the Public Guardian.

For health and welfare decisions the attorney can only act when your mother is unable to make her own decisions. Is it actually the case that she does not have such mental capacity? With her attorney’s assistance, might it be possible for her to make decisions?

The power of attorney document for property and financial decisions can be used as soon as it is registered but the document should make clear whether the attorney has power to act at any time starting with the date of its registration, or only from when a state of mental incapacity commences.

Adding you and your brother to the existing LPA’s can only be done by ending your mother’s existing LPA’s and making new ones. But this is difficult if it is held that your mother does not have mental capacity to make such a decision and that your sister might seek to thwart her intentions.

I can see no reason why your mother cannot have a copy of her own Will. If her daughter will not hand it over, your mother would have the right to request a copy from the firm which produced the Will.

As you can imagine, this is a complex and sensitive area of law. I would recommend you to seek specialist legal advice and be prepared for costs. If a solicitor drew up the Will and the existing LPA’s, an approach to them might be best in the first instance. Which? Legal Service have extensive experience in this area and you might find it helpful to approach them but I would suggest that personal face-to-face service is likely to be more appropriate in a case like this.