Which? magazine warns that the power of attorney system is in desperate need of improvement, as new research finds widespread confusion about how the process works and banks often causing avoidable problems for people registering as attorneys. As many insurers and brokers know, the process of dealing with critical illness claims, or Life claims, can be made much more difficult when confusing or contradictory statements appear to have been made on Power of Attorney documents – especially if the claimant has not used a solicitor.
Considering the security and peace of mind an LPA can bring, Which? was concerned to find that many people have a poor understanding of how it works and why it is needed. Which? surveyed 2,000 people across the UK and found that nearly nine in 10 (85%) said they know what LPA is, but the consumer champion exposed worrying gaps in their knowledge.
One in six (16%) mistakenly think that an individual loses access to their financial accounts once the legal document is registered.This might explain why only one in seven (15%) said they would give someone else power of attorney over their affairs. An LPA can only be registered while an individual still has mental capacity – after that it is too late. But Which? found concerning evidence that many people do not know this.
Among those surveyed who do not have an LPA, seven in 10 (70%) said they were healthy so did not need one. Meanwhile, three quarters (77%) of people incorrectly thought an LPA can be set up at any time in life, suggesting they are at risk of putting it off. Awareness of LPAs appears to be especially low among certain groups. Young people and those on lower incomes all showed lower levels of understanding of LPAs in the survey.
A quarter (26%) of people aged 18 to 34 and one in five (20%) who earn under £21,000 a year said they did not know what power of attorney was, compared to just seven per cent of those aged over 55 and one in 10 (10%) of those who earn over £56,000. Which?’s research has consistently found over the years that attorneys encounter problems when registering with banks and other financial firms.
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In a separate survey, Which? found that the common issues reported for more than 8,000 of its members with a registered LPA were a lack of knowledge among staff (60%), complexities in the process (38%) and delays (28%). Most people (31%) who registered LPAs said banks were the most difficult to deal with. Many said banks lost LPA documents, failed to properly explain the registration process or required them to make unnecessary trips to a branch.
Which? heard from people who were asked to register in-branch in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, even at banks where online registration was an option.
Even once the registration process has been completed, some banks do not authorise full access to the donor’s accounts.
Nationwide does not let attorneys use telephone or app banking services, for example, while Tesco Bank does not give attorneys access to online banking. With HSBC, attorneys only have access to online banking if the donor does not. Other banks allow both the attorney and donor to have access.
The consumer champion is urging for consistent industry standards and modernisation in terms of the access granted to accounts as well as the registration process. Which? also wants the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to work harder to improve awareness of and access to LPAs.
The OPG launched a consultation on modernising LPAs last year, and Which?’s research highlights why their proposals to make the system faster, safer and more accessible urgently need to be acted upon.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said:
“People who take on the responsibility of helping a family member or friend to deal with their financial affairs should not have to jump through hoops when dealing with banks, but our research reveals many are still facing an uphill struggle to put the legal arrangement in place.
“The creaking power of attorney system needs urgent improvement, particularly to address the public’s lack of awareness of how the process works and the difficulties people face when registering with banks. This problem has been going on for years.
“Government proposals to modernise LPAs – such as introducing a fast-tracking service, digitising the registration process and improving awareness – are much needed to make the system fit for purpose in the 21st century.”