We get plenty of calls about power of attorney, and they don’t make happy listening. Banks are letting their customers down at this potentially stressful time – so what’s going wrong and why?
More of us are living longer, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll be in fine fettle to the bitter end. For the one million of us who will develop dementia, and many more who may become too frail to manage our accounts, it makes sense to sort out our finances before it’s too late. This is why Lasting Power of Attorney (PoA) exists.
Establishing PoA should be simple. You complete a form, get it signed by your nominated attorneys, hand over £130 and register it with the Office of the Public Guardian when you need to. Then you inform the relevant financial providers.
So far, so good. But we’ve heard from many people who have experienced problems when trying to act on their responsibilities. It’s hard enough to keep our own accounts in order (at least it is for me), let alone another person’s. And while many people only act as an attorney for one or two people, the banks deal with hundreds of thousands of cases every year. So why do they keep getting it wrong?
How hard can it be?
We last covered power of attorney in 2010 and the post still attracts comments. Andy Hamilton told us he found one bank ‘obstructive and incompetent over a period of years’. He added:
‘I did eventually manage to get internet and telephone access to my mother’s account, but only by having several heated arguments over the phone and going into the local branch several times with proof of ID and the PoA form and refusing to leave until it was sorted out.’
Another contributor told us about problems with a well-known building society. Jo told us:
‘Maybe I should play the undignified game that we have been reduced to before, of taking my Mum into branch and reminding her of her date of birth and address and even how to write her name when they ask their security questions. Anyone would think it was their money.’
I suspect the problem is that the person picking up the phone or sitting behind the counter doesn’t always understand how PoA works. I might be more understanding if this was a rare occurrence, but it appears this isn’t the case. Surely it’s not beyond the banks means to have a crib sheet on their systems that tackles PoA requests?
Banks need to get it right
It’s time the banks and building societies got their act together on power of attorney. They could start by reading the advice guides published by the Office of the Public Guardian and the government.
Right now it’s consumers who are losing out, as they’re wasting time going back to companies who haven’t followed the rules. But with an aging population, you’d think the banks would realise that it’s in their best interests to ensure they understand the law on this – otherwise the number of complaints will only grow.