Government do-it-yourself kits for lasting powers of attorney have been criticised and called "risky", as new figures reveal public take-up is spiralling.
Lasting powers of attorney (LPA) – which transfer the responsibility to make key life choices to another person in the event of mental incapacity – have increased threefold since 2010, according to data released by the government under the Freedom of Information Act.
In 2014, the government's office of the public guardian (OPG) launched an online service enabling the general public to create the documentation needed to put an LPA in place.
And according to the OPG data, which was provided in response to a request from wealth manager Old Mutual, the number of LPAs registered was in the low tens of thousands in the late noughties. However, in 2015 the number spiked to over 440,000. Meanwhile, during the first seven months of 2016 there had already been almost 300,000 applications.
A number of groups representing the elderly have hit out at the government scheme. Here are their top five reasons for concern:
1 – Fraud
Somewhat unsurprisingly, a key concern from elderly groups is that undue pressure is put on applicants by third parties. In addition, being an online-only service there is the worry that the initiative could be open to fraud.
Gary FitzGerald, the chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said:
Once a lasting power of attorney has been registered there is little to stop a determined attorney from financially abusing an incapacitated or vulnerable donor.
We believe the OPG’s online tool does not sufficiently address, warn against, and prevent the misuse of powers of attorney, thereby leaving older and vulnerable people open to accidental or intentional abuse.
2 – Correctly expressed?
Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), which has released a report on LPAs, concluded 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.
Chief exec Lakshmi Turner said: “The prospect of being able to submit an LPA application entirely digitally is extremely concerning."
3 – Mistakes
Another conclusion drawn by SFE was that there were a high number of mistakes made in LPA applications. With no lawyers involved to assist, the danger is that these could mean that the LPA is null and void, meaning applicants are unknowingly exposed to the same risks as if they had not got an LPA in the first place.
4 – Solicitors necessary
No-one likes paying for them but get an online application wrong and the only way to rectify a mistake might be to go and see a lawyer anyway.
“Decisions like these have huge implications for individuals and they can’t always be answered with online forms, which is why we think it’s crucial that people do plenty of research and seek professional advice where possible," said Jane Ashcroft, the chief exec of charity Anchor, which focuses on housing and care for older people.
5 – Government targets
Governments love setting targets. Whether they are achieved or not sometimes feels rather immaterial in the grand scheme of things (cue questions on when we will have budget surplus...) and online LPA applications are no stranger to targets with the OPG trying to push more people to apply. The department has a target that 30 per cent of applications between April 2016 to April 2017 are done online.
SFE highlighted that in its the latest OPG annual report, it admits to taking "risks" in striking a balance between "empowering and safeguarding".