Lasting powers of attorney service set to become 'safer, simpler and fit for the future'

News Team, 21/07/2021

The UK’s Ministry of Justice has announced plans to reform the lasting power of attorney (LPA) process to make it simpler and easier to use whilst shifting to a predominantly digital service.

The number of registered LPAs has increased drastically in recent years to more than five million, but the process of making one retains many paper-based features that are over 30 years old.

A 12-week consultation launched yesterday (20/07/2021) will examine the entire process of creating and registering an LPA – with a view to boosting the Office of the Public Guardian’s (OPG) powers to prevent fraud and abuse while introducing a mainly digital service.

It will examine how technology can be used to reform the process of witnessing, improve access and speed up the service. The consultation will propose widening the OPG’s legal powers to check identities and stop or delay any registrations that raise concern. It will also look at making the process for objecting to the registration of an LPA simpler to help stop potentially abusive LPAs.

The proposed changes will fundamentally alter and update a process that has been in place for decades. While the service will become predominantly digital, alternatives such as paper will remain for those unable to use the internet.

Justice Minister, Alex Chalk MP, said: “These changes will make the service quicker to use, easy to access and even more secure from fraud.

“The consultation comes just over a year after the OPG launched a new digital service called ‘Use a lasting power of attorney’. As the service allows attorneys to securely share details of their LPA with organisations online, it means they can quickly take action on their loved one’s behalf.

Nick Goodwin, Public Guardian for England and Wales, added: “This consultation puts forward proposals which will allow us to make the service fit for the modern world – one that can be accessed online, and which grants OPG the power to conduct thorough checks to protect against fraud while making it easier for people to raise concerns.”

Tim Snaith, a partner in the private client team at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, welcomed the announcement, explaining that “each form is over 20 pages long, requires in excess of 6 signatures (sometimes this can reach in excess of 10), and must be signed in a strict order. 

“The world has moved forward significantly in terms of technology since 2007, and this may present a solution to the above issues. However, this has to be balanced against the scope for abuse. One of the reasons the more rigorous LPA forms were introduced in 2007 and registration became compulsory was to prevent abuse, but this has in turn made it more difficult to create the power. 

"It is a fine balance and the consultation will I am sure shine a bright light on the risk of abuse and how this might be managed if the process is made simpler. There is no doubt the system could be greatly improved but care must be taken!”

The consultation will look at:

- How witnessing works, and whether remote witnessing or other safeguards are desirable.

- How to reduce the chance of an LPA being rejected due to avoidable errors.

- Whether the OPG’s remit should be expanded to have the legal authority to carry out further checks such as identification verification.

- How people can object to an LPA and the process itself, as well as when is the right time for an objection to be made.

- Whether a new urgent service is needed to ensure those who need an LPA granted quickly can get one.

- How solicitors access the service and the best way to facilitate this.

Any substantial changes will require amendments to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which brought in the current system.

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