Urgent warning about Government’s ‘risky’ online legal tool
Lucy Watson has joined a number of organisations representing older and vulnerable people to raise serious concerns around the Government’s online tool for creating Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs).
An LPA is a powerful legal document allowing someone to appoint trusted individuals to make important decisions about their care and finances, in the event of a loss of mental capacity through an accident or illness such as dementia.
In May 2014, the Government’s Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) launched its online LPA tool, which it claims allows people to create the documents without the need for professional advice from a solicitor.
But a new report, published by a coalition of organisations led by SFE, warns that anyone creating an LPA without taking specialist legal advice faces a significantly higher risk of being left with an ineffective legal document, incurring additional application fees, and even becoming a victim of fraud or coercion.
The report also raises concerns around the potential of a completely digital system proposed by the OPG, whereby individuals would no longer need to sign the documents themselves.
Lucy, a Full Accredited member of SFE, says: “The prospect of being able to submit an LPA application entirely digitally is extremely concerning and raises serious questions around the potential for fraud and financial abuse.”
A recent study in which participants were invited to use the OPG’s online tool and other ‘DIY’ methods revealed that:
- Some of the forms did not accurately express the way in which participants would want their affairs and welfare to be handled in the future
- The resulting documents were more likely to contain elementary mistakes, rendering them ineffective and requiring additional fees
- Following consultation with a solicitor, most participants made significant changes to the permissions of their documents.
June McSparron, a 75-year-old who participated in the study, said: “You’re exposing yourself to a lot of risk by filling this form in on your own. There are so many bits that you can get wrong, and you can easily be pressured into making choices.”
The number of LPAs being registered has increased steadily since the launch of the online tool and the OPG is actively trying to convince more people to apply for LPAs online. In its latest Annual Report, the OPG admits though that it is willing to take ‘risks’ in striking a balance between ‘empowering and safeguarding’. The organisations behind the campaign say the Government body is potentially exposing people to unacceptable levels of risk and in doing so may be compromising its ability to safeguard those who are most vulnerable.
Lucy says: “An LPA is by far the most powerful and important legal document an individual can have, because it allows you to pass potentially life-changing decisions about your affairs on to a third party.
“It’s absolutely right that people should be planning ahead for the future with LPAs, but granting someone this sort of authority over your affairs is an extremely big decision. We recommend that anyone considering an LPA goes to a legal expert to ensure they get the right advice, consider all the options, and safeguard themselves for the future.”