Misuse of Powers on the increase

More and more people in the UK are registering Lasting Powers of Attorney, allowing decisions to be made on their behalf if they no longer have the capacity to make choices for themselves. Lasting Powers of Attorney exist to oversee an individual’s financial affairs, as well as looking after their physical care and well-being. Increased publicity of LPAs, an ageing population, and greater awareness of conditions such as dementia have all contributed to this increase. It is claimed that there are now around 2 million LPAs registered in England and Wales, with 800,000 being added in the last year alone.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this increase has been a corresponding rise in the number of investigations against alleged abuse of these powers. Recent figures from the Office of the Public Guardian, the government agency which protects those without the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, show that there were 1,729 investigations into allegations of misuse of Lasting Powers of Attorney in the 2017-18 financial year. This represents an increase of 44% over the previous year. Around 250 cases went to court in the last twelve months, and the majority of these achieved successful prosecutions.

Most of the investigations and subsequent court cases involve financial negligence, such as instances where a local authority has failed to pay a resident’s care home fees. There are relatively few cases where physical neglect is an issue. From time to time newspapers report cases where family members, most often the children of elderly parents, try to take advantage of the incapacity of their loved one to syphon off savings or other assets for their own benefit.

Any allegation of abuse of a Lasting Power of Attorney will be upsetting and the cause friction within families and friends. However, the Office of the Public Guardian states that half of their investigations are the result of misunderstandings or simply a lack of available information, and are resolved amicably. The majority of others are dealt with before the need to go to court. The OPG stresses that the misuse of LPAs represents a tiny percentage relative to the huge numbers of attorneys who carry out their duties responsibly and in the best interests of the vulnerable members of society.

It is estimated that there are currently 11.6 million people over 65 in the UK, or 17.8% of the population. With average life expectancy for men currently at 79.5 years, and women at 83.2, more and more of us can expect to live to a ripe old age, bringing with it the increased risk of mental and physical infirmity. A Lasting Power of Attorney does not have to be used immediately, but can be kept until such time as an individual is no longer able to make their own decisions. If there is no LPA in place it could mean that if an individual loses their capacity to manage their own affairs, the Court of Protection will appoint a deputy to look after their interests for them. This will be a person chosen by the Court, not by them, so that the individual’s future may be decided by a complete stranger. This is why we recommend that everyone should seriously consider making Lasting Powers of Attorney, as well as keeping their wills updated as life’s circumstances change. .

Anyone with concerns over abuse of a Lasting Power of Attorney should contact the Office of the Public Guardian: https://www.gov.uk/report-concern-about-attorney-deputy

Bretherton Law have been helping families with changes in their circumstances for over 50 years, and we have built an enviable reputation for our professional service and honest advice. To discuss drawing up a Lasting Power of Attorney or making an application to the Court of Protection, contact Anne Stockley at: annestockley@brethertonlaw.co.uk, or call 01727 869293.


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