New online verification service for lasting powers of attorney
On 17 July 2020, the Office of the Public Guardian (the "OPG") launched its online service "Use a lasting power of attorney". This service enables attorneys to prove their status to service providers, such as banks or health care providers, by providing them with online access to a summary of the relevant lasting power of attorney (LPA).
How it works
Once an LPA has been registered, donors and attorneys will now be sent an activation key. Having set up an online account with the OPG, they will be able to use the LPA registration number and the activation key to add LPAs to this account, and then create an access code for the account which they can give to organisations. The principal benefit of the service will be to speed up the process of verifying an LPA so that it can be used by an attorney to support a donor.
The new service will be available for LPAs registered from 17 July 2020. The OPG has also indicated that it will be opened up to those with LPAs registered earlier in 2020 and some from 2019, though no date has been specified for this extension. There are no plans so far to make the service available to those with LPAs registered before 2019, but the OPG is looking at this possibility.
The benefits and disadvantages
While the new digital service will not speed up the initial process of making and registering an LPA, it will assist when proving the attorney's authority to act. The current paper-based system of proof can take weeks, during which the attorney is effectively unable to act on the donor's behalf. In contrast, the new system should take a matter of days. The OPG has indicated that it has received much positive feedback from organisations that trialled the service, which was developed in conjunction with HSBC and the Department of Work and Pensions.
The new system is a welcome attempt to simplify an otherwise lengthy (and sometimes frustrating) process. However, it also opens up new avenues for fraud and the financial abuse of vulnerable donors. Fraudsters use increasingly sophisticated methods to extract information from vulnerable people and those who are unfamiliar with online technology. This makes the planned release of sensitive information by service providers on receipt of a link to an electronic account an area of particular concern.
That said, the principle of streamlining the system to enable attorneys to act for donors is welcome. The potential risks inherent in a digital service should be manageable so long as donors and attorneys take precautions with the codes required to access the service and, as always, donors take particular care to choose trustworthy attorneys. Though there will be no obligation to create an online account, It is not clear from the OPG's announcement whether it will be possible for the party registering the LPA to request that an activation key should not be issued. The ability to do so would enable parties to opt out of the online service, which would be useful where a given donor is particularly vulnerable.
If you have any questions arising from the issues discussed above, or generally in relation to making or registering an LPA, please contact the author or your usual Forsters contact.