Reforms designed to transition the process of creating Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) from a largely paper-based process to a digital one are to be enacted. The Powers of Attorney Act passed its third reading in the House of Lords last week and has today (19th September) received Royal Assent.
The updates are in response to the government consultation in Summer 2021 and subsequent Ministry of Justice response in May 2022. At the time respondents and practitioners welcomed progress and digitisation, but warned that protections for the most vulnerable were paramount in a digital process.
The Act will “bolster safeguards to protect vulnerable people from abuse or fraud” say the government with plans to include identification checks which would require official documents or information such as a driving licence, passport or Government Gateway account as part of a strengthened verification process.
The Office of the Public Guardian has also suggested that digitisation will “help reduce errors from donors, attorneys and others involved in the process by ensuring these can be picked up and fixed early on;” with the ambition that this will reduce waiting. The reforms will also review how the process of witnessing could be made simpler.
The reforms will also resolve a long-standing anomaly of LPAs by enabling CILEX lawyers to finally certify LPA’s, a move that has been described as “completely right” given chartered legal executives are allowed to provide legal services under the Legal Services Act 2007 and provide the same services as solicitors. The change will come into effect in two month’s time.
Stuart Howard, Interim Public Guardian for England and Wales, said:
“Lasting powers of attorney are vital in helping people plan for the future and stay in control of their decisions.”
These reforms will enable us to modernise the process – ensuring our service is fit for the for the future, safe and simple to use, and can be accessed online.”
Justice Minister, Tom Pursglove MP, said:
“A lasting power of attorney provides comfort and reassurance to millions of people that decisions will be made in their best interests should they lose capacity.”
Our reforms will make the system easier to access, simpler and even more secure from fraud. This forms part of our plans to harness technology across government and provide better services to the public.”
Welcoming the move to allow CILEX lawyers to certify LPAs, CILEX Chair Professor Chris Bones added
“This latest legislative change brings the LPA process into the modern, digital age while implementing safeguards to protect the vulnerable from exploitation. It also corrects a longstanding and nonsensical anomaly, empowering our members by allowing them to certify copies of powers of attorney.”
It once again reflects government recognition of the important role CILEX has to play in the justice system and the specialist skills and fresh perspectives our members bring. We are making significant breakthroughs that will see CILEX Lawyers benefit from the same opportunities as their solicitor counterparts, removing barriers to their career progression and at the same time giving consumers access to a wider range of legal services providers.”
Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja said:
“A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is one of the most important legal documents that a person will make. The consequence of an attorney making a poor decision could result in the donor’s loss of all their assets or admission into a care home against their wishes.
We support the Act’s aim to improve access to powers of attorney through a new digital route, while ensuring that people can still make an LPA via a paper process too.
Maintaining this paper route is essential to ensure that vulnerable people are not disadvantaged by the government’s proposals.”