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10 September 2020
On 17 July 2020 the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) launched its online service "Use a lasting power of attorney". This service enables attorneys to prove their status to service providers, such as banks or healthcare providers, by providing them with online access to a summary of the relevant lasting power of attorney (LPA).
Once an LPA has been registered, donors and attorneys will be sent an activation key. Having set up an online account with the OPG, they will be able to use the LPA registration number and the activation key to add LPAs to this account and then create an access code for the account which they can give to organisations. The principal benefit of the service is that it will speed up the process of verifying an LPA so that it can be used by an attorney to support a donor.
The new service is available for LPAs registered from 17 July 2020. The OPG has also indicated that it will be opened up to those with LPAs registered earlier in 2020 and some from 2019, although no date has been specified for this extension. There are no current plans to make the service available to those with LPAs registered before 2019, but the OPG is looking at this possibility.
While the new digital service will not speed up the initial process of making and registering an LPA, it will assist when proving the attorney's authority to act. The current paper-based system of proof can take weeks, during which the attorney is effectively unable to act on the donor's behalf. In contrast, the new system should take a matter of days. The OPG has indicated that it received much positive feedback from organisations that trialled the service, which was developed in conjunction with HSBC and the Department of Work and Pensions.
The new system is a welcome attempt to simplify an otherwise lengthy (and sometimes frustrating) process. However, it also opens up new avenues for fraud and the financial abuse of vulnerable donors. Fraudsters use increasingly sophisticated methods to extract information from vulnerable people and those who are unfamiliar with online technology. This makes the planned release of sensitive information by service providers on receipt of a link to an electronic account an area of particular concern.
That said, the principle of streamlining the system to enable attorneys to act for donors is welcome. The potential risks inherent to a digital service should be manageable so long as donors and attorneys take precautions with the codes required to access the service and, as always, donors take particular care to choose trustworthy attorneys. Although there is no obligation to create an online account, it is not clear from the OPG's announcement whether it is possible for the party registering the LPA to request that an activation key should not be issued. The ability to do so would enable parties to opt out of the online service, which would be useful where a given donor is particularly vulnerable.
For further information on this topic please contact Fiona Smith, Michael Armstrong or Nicole Aubin-Parvu at Forsters LLP by telephone (+44 20 7863 8333) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Forsters LLP website can be accessed at www.forsters.co.uk.
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