Controversial proposals to create a fully online process for creating lasting powers of attorney (LPA) have been put on hold, the government admitted today.
In a formal response to a consultation entitled Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian, the Ministry of Justice said it is ‘confident that a fully digital LPA will provide benefits’ but that ‘a number of points’ need to be resolved first.
A partially online service, which requires users to print out and physically sign forms, went live last year under the government’s programme to make public services ‘digital by default’. The justice ministry’s consultation had proposed putting the process entirely online, with electronic signatures.
The response published today concedes that the majority of respondents ‘did not agree’ with an all-digital system, saying it gave greater scope for fraud and financial abuse, and would not be suitable for elderly clients.
In its response to the consultation, the Law Society called for the retention of face-to-face contact and ‘wet signatures’.
The MoJ said it would ‘build on the feedback received and work with key stakeholders to refine our proposal for a fully digital LPA and consult with the public when we have a fuller picture of how the digital tool will operate’.
The change of heart over online applications appears in the last line of a press statement in which the justice minister, Simon Hughes (pictured), announces ‘improvements’ to the LPA application process. These include plans for ‘new simplified forms’ which will allow people to state when they wish their LPA to come in to effect.
The Office of the Public Guardian will publish the redesigned LPA applications by early next year. ‘The form will be shorter, use simpler language and will be more easily accessible to individuals when making an LPA,’ the response says.
However a key proposal in the consultation, to combine forms for health and welfare and property and finance, has also been abandoned, the response says. The Law Society had warned that a ‘hybrid LPA form’ could confuse users and lead to mistakes.
Hughes said: ‘LPAs give people the peace of mind of knowing that if they ever lose capacity, the important decisions about their life can be taken by someone they have chosen and can trust. We are keeping the right safeguards in place to protect the public at what can be a vulnerable time in a person’s life.’
Law Society president Andrew Caplen welcomed the decision to retain physical signatures. He said: 'There are real problems to be overcome to ensure that vulnerable people are properly protected before electronic signatures can be accepted and we do not believe that government should move further until these have been satisfactorily addressed.'
He said the Society is happy to work with the government to ensure that any future proposals on a fully digital LPA tool adequately address the concerns.