It is “unlikely” that lasting power of attorney (LPA) application timescales will return to eight weeks anytime soon, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has said.
Speaking during a meeting with industry body the BEST Foundation, the OPG said demand has continued to increase since the spikes seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, with usual seasonal drops in demand failing to materialise and not anticipated anytime soon.
“There are still 1-2 Royal Mail Vans coming every day to collect all of the outgoing LPA packages,” said the OPG, who also said there are “small trends that point to times of the day that look better than others”.
They also pointed out that their Nottingham office recently lost a day of processing due to heavy rainfall causing their ceiling to collapse.
With regards to staffing, they said:
“The OPG are now robust enough to recognise their staffing needs and are confident that they can respond to requirements for more staff as and when this is required. They are still offering varying types of working patterns (daytime, twilight etc.) and seeing success with this.”
They added that they are “looking at ways to assess the demographic of who is actually applying for LPAs so that there can be a push to underrepresented groups”.
The OPG has also opened a new office in Birmingham, which is mainly used for calls. With regards to the phone system itself, they said:
“Due to the age of the existing telephone system, they are unable to look into a way to implement a system for people to hold their place in the queue and receive a call back. The Ministry of Justice are looking at implementing a new phone system but it will take some time for this to be put in place.
In order to assist with the high volume of enquiries they receive, they have made various provisions such as the recently added FAQ mechanism, to help to answer enquiries that aren’t specific enough to require a call handler to answer them.”
On linked LPAs being sent back to clients or their advisors separately and whether this could be avoided, the OPG said:
“When it comes to dispatch, the team are only allowed to put one LPA in each envelope. In an effort to reduce their overall lead times, they put only one LPA in each envelope as they know the weight of each package exactly.
If they were to put multiple in, they would need to count how many were in there and then weigh them, which would take time and reduce productivity.
There is also the fact that the OPG are bound to send any LPA back to the named correspondent and this may sometimes vary in some cases between linked applications and changing the current stance may create room for error.”
On whether it was possible to ensure the same case worker handled linked cases, the OPG said this wouldn’t be possible without making changes within the current systems. “The priority at the moment is investigating in digital resources rather than spending time amending the current one.”
“The Best Foundation advisory board are delighted to be involved with ongoing meetings and discussions with the OPG, to further understand their vision for the future,” said Jonathan Maskew, BEST Advisory Panel Member:
“The increased volume of LPAs reveals a trend that is very likely to continue and a dialogue with those at the ‘coalface’ of delivery will ensure that solutions that are mapped out will be for the benefit of all involved in the process.
What is certain is that the digitalisation of LPAs is clearly a route that is needed for greater efficiencies and that the technological advances seen with ID and verification can minimise any risks and further protect those that are considered as vulnerable.”