In a bid to streamline the application process for lasting powers of attorney (LPA), recent digitisation efforts are facing scrutiny from lawyers who warn of increased risks for vulnerable individuals and potential delays, as reported by The Times.
The Powers of Attorney Act, which recently received royal assent, aims to make the system more accessible, secure, and efficient. The government envisions an online system with additional safeguards to prevent fraud, including identity checks. However, concerns are raised regarding the complexity of government technology and the potential exclusion of those without internet access.
Lubna Shuja, President from The Law Society, emphasises the importance of maintaining a paper route alongside digital processes, highlighting challenges faced by individuals in care homes or hospitals and the 1.5 million homes without internet access.
Katie de Swarte from Osbornes Law suggests that the elderly and vulnerable, who are primary users of LPAs, may be more susceptible to abuse during the online application process.
Despite the reforms offering an opportunity for more people to prepare LPAs, Holly Chantler from Solicitors for the Elderly stresses the need for proper checks and balances. She calls for enhanced powers and resources for the Office of the Public Guardian to effectively supervise and investigate attorneys.
Lawyers report significant backlogs, with the LPA registration process taking approximately 20 weeks, leading to delays in house sales and financial strain. The digital system’s introduction, without addressing existing backlogs, raises concerns about potential oversight of older cases, according to The Times.
Beyond LPA concerns, lawyers also argue for a broader reform of mental capacity laws. Charlotte Fraser from Farrer & Co highlights the outdated test for making a will, established over 150 years ago, lacking consideration for modern understanding of cognitive abilities. Richard McDermott from Farrer criticises the law for neglecting individuals in the “twilight zone” of cognitive ability affected by conditions like dementia.