New safeguards on the lasting power of attorney process, including a register of active powers, should be introduced to protect vulnerable people from fraudsters, a study by a Westminster thinktank and fraud prevention body has recommended. Protected by Design: new fraud protections for people at risk, published by thinktank Demos and counter-fraud network Cifas calls for more oversight of the power of attorney system. 

Among its recommendations are: 

  • The establishment of a register of people with active lasting powers of attorney, or under an order of the Court of Protection, updated in real time for inspection by financial services businesses.  
  • Credit and criminal records checks should be offered before a power of attorney can be registered. 
  • More sharing of intelligence, including on 'suckers lists' drawn up for sale among fradusters. 

According to the study digital fraud is the fastest growing type of fraud against vulnerable people, with much of it committed by people abusing a position of trust. In 2017-18 the Office of the Public Guardian, which oversees power of attorney, received 5,245 safeguarding referrals and accepted 1,886 for further investigation. Abusive behaviours included gifting money to the attorney, hoarding and spending assets to avoid liability for care home fees. 

Authors Andrew Gload and Polly Mackenzie suggest that one problem is the 'blanket' model of protection. 'Power of attorney is seen as a blanket operation, where the attorney takes over someone’s affairs once they lose capacity. This is not in keeping with the reality of capacity, which is decision-specific, and often fluctuating.'

Meanwhile the legal framework provides little protection against abuse. Providing full, largely unsupervised access for attorneys, and no access for others, is 'a false comfort', the authors conclude, putting too much of a burden on a regulatory system that has limited capability to investigate and deal with abuse.  

Home Office security minister Ben Wallace MP told an event marking the publication that he has asked officials to raise the issue with the Office of the Public Guardian.

Private Client Section: elderly and vulnerable client care conference 2019

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