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.
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.