Court action against people acting with power of attorney on behalf of vulnerable people jumped to record levels last year, according to data obtained by a law firm. Bishop’s Stortford and London firm Nockolds said that, as many lasting powers of attorney are created without professional advice, the system is 'wide open to abuse'.

The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) made 721 applications to the Court of Protection to censure or remove attorneys in 2018/19. That was 55% up from the previous year’s total of 465, according to Bishop’s Stortford and London firm Nockolds. The number of legal actions taken against people with power of attorney has more than doubled over the past two years. Making improper gifts and not acting in the vulnerable person’s best interests were two of the main reasons for having attorneys censured or removed.

In addition to these actions, the OPG launched 2,883 safeguarding investigations in 2018/19. That was 54% more than the previous year’s 1,871. 

Nockolds said that as most misconduct by attorneys does not come to light during the donor's lifetime, OPG investigations of attorneys represent only a small proportion of abuses. The OPG is often tipped off by relatives, care homes and local authorities but these organisations have limited opportunities to identify whether inappropriate transfers have been made, or whether attorneys are really acting in the best interest of vulnerable people.

Peter King, partner at Nockolds, said: 'The sharp rise in legal actions against attorneys is vastly greater than the increase in the number of attorneys on the register, which suggests that there are some fundamental questions about how the current system operates and whether there are sufficient safeguards at the point at which people register. Misconduct among attorneys is very difficult to detect so these numbers are likely just the tip of the iceberg.'

King noted that many LPAs are now created without professional advice. 'With most banking now conducted online, there is little to no oversight of the transactions that take place, which leaves the system wide open to abuse.'