The government has backed a private members bill that will allow lasting powers of attorney to be made completely online. The Lasting Power of Attorney Bill, which brings forward government proposals to modernise the process, completed its second reading last Friday.
The bill was introduced by Conservative Stephen Metcalfe, who told the Commons that the prevalence of dementia and an ageing population meant power of attorney documents will become increasingly important.
However, reliance on paper made the process unnecessarily complicated and the Office of the Public Guardian is 'drowning in paperwork', Metcalfe said.
'The OPG reports that it is taking up to 20 weeks on average to process an LPA application, against its target of eight weeks. Others will be receiving letters from constituents asking for assistance, as they are left unable to support their loved ones because an LPA is currently sitting in that backlog,' he told the Commons debate.
A lasting power of attorney is a legal agreement designed to protect people who may lack mental capacity to make decisions about their care, treatment and financial affairs. An LPA allows the person to grant decision-making powers to another person in circumstances where they lose capacity to make their own decisions.
The Ministry of Justice says allowing the LPA to be made completely online will reduce errors, which in turn will reduce waiting times. However, an improved paper process will also be introduced for those unable to use the internet.
The Law Society told the Gazette that it supports the bill’s aim to improve access to powers of attorney through a new digital route but was ‘disappointed’ that the bill does not address the need for LPA certification to expressly include consideration of the donor’s capacity.
The Society said an LPA is one of the most important legal documents a person will make. The consequence of an attorney making a poor decision could result in the donor losing all their assets, being admitted into a care home against their wishes or even premature death.
Including consideration of the donor’s capacity ‘would establish that a person making an LPA has the capacity to do so and is a crucial safeguard that is needed to protect the most vulnerable’, a spokesperson said.
The government was pressed on this omission by shadow minister Alex Cunningham MP during the second reading.
Justice minister Mike Freer said the government was concerned that a formal framework would be ‘unnecessarily legalistic’ and overlap with other provisions, such as advocacy.
The bill will now be scrutinised by the public bill committee.
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