Concern that a growing number of solicitors are unintentionally involved in the ‘financial abuse’ of their clients has prompted the Law Society to issue new guidelines.
As a result of economic recession, social change and advances in technology the risk of financial abuse is increasing, Chancery Lane said.
A practice note, produced by the Society’s mental health disability committee in consultation with organisations including Age UK, MIND and the Office of the Public Guardian, says solicitors ‘have a responsibility to be aware of financial abuse’ and to understand their role in ‘both preventing it and taking action to protect clients’.
Failings here would risk breaching sections of the Solicitors Regulation Authority code covering client care, confidentiality and disclosure, and relations with third parties.
The government defines financial abuse as: ‘Financial or material abuse, including theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.’
The practice note sets out responsibilities that go beyond standard capacity testing for clients, to include observations on ‘how any relative or friend who has accompanied the client behaves towards the client’.
Other indicators include not only changes in signatures on cheques and documents, and ‘abrupt’ changes in wills, but also ‘lack of amenities such as TV, personal grooming items’ and ‘the sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives’.
Groups at risk of financial abuse were also more vulnerable to mis-selling of financial products. ‘Abuse or neglect by another legal professional’ was among the risks identified.