Power of Attorney Process Shakeup

The Government is looking at proposals to digitalise the Lasting Power of Attorney process in what would be the biggest shakeup of the system for over 30 years. Demand for digital services has increased dramatically in recent times, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current paperwork-heavy system is viewed by many as outdated, with people having to wait at least 12 weeks (and sometimes months longer) to register an LPA.

The new proposals to modernise the process could make setting up Power of Attorney easier, quicker and more affordable, although there are concerns about the risks a digitalised system may pose to older and vulnerable people. Many either do not own a smartphone or computer, or else are unfamiliar with making digital applications over the internet, making mistakes in applications highly likely. These ‘donors’ may also become targets for fraud or abuse of the powers that an LPA confers on the ‘attorneys’ who are appointed to handle their financial affairs. Robust safeguards will therefore need to be in place to protect the elderly and vulnerable, including advanced donor identity checks to protect against identity theft.

One of the proposals which the Government will examine is setting up a dedicated fast-track service for those who need an LPA urgently, often because a relative’s health has suddenly worsened, leaving them incapable of making important decisions on their own behalf during the sometimes lengthy period it currently takes to register Power of Attorney. However, this is not the Government’s preferred option, as it does not believe it is possible to create a faster and simpler fast-track service with the necessary safeguards to protect donors.

Removing the requirement for a witness could also help simplify the process, although an LPA could potentially be witnessed remotely. The Government appears to favour abolishing the role of the witness altogether and replacing it with new, as yet unspecified safeguards that serve the same purpose. A further proposal involves making the application process faster and more efficient by implementing a digital checking service. This would involve applications being digitally checked as they are made and sending them for registration as soon as they are completed, thereby significantly reducing the current delay between executing and registering Power of Attorney, as well as the possibility of an LPA being rejected.

New safeguards against fraud will also be considered, including enhancing the power of the Office of the Public Guardian to take more robust measures to verify the identity of both donors and attorneys, deal with complaints against the latter and make it easier for concerned parties to object to an LPA.

Demand for Power of Attorney has increased dramatically in recent years, with roughly five million LPAs registered in the UK, and there now appears to be agreement among legal professionals and the relevant Government authorities that the current system is not fit for purpose in the digital age and is ripe for reform.

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