/ 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.

Comments
Guest

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.

Guest

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.

Guest
Terry says:
18 December 2012

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.

Guest
Terry says:
18 December 2012

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

Guest

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.

Guest
Granville says:
18 December 2012

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.

Guest
jackie says:
3 February 2013

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!

Guest

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