The Office of the Public Guardian for England and Wales (‘OPG’), in partnership with various regulators, has issued guidance to help support customers who are unable to make their own decisions.
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The guidance offers help and advice to staff of financial services and utility companies on how to deal with customers when their decisions are taken for them under a power of attorney or deputyship for property and financial affairs. It was noted that “those who act in the best interests of adults at risk often find the process of dealing with companies they rely on both confusing and inconsistent”.
The aim of the guidance is to provide a “smoother, more uniform and straightforward” customer experience while ensuring that safeguards against exploitation are maintained.
The OPG has stressed that the approach to be adopted is a matter of law and is specifically governed by the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The guidance advises that company employees should not try to assess a customer’s capacity themselves. Instead they need only to check that the legal documents are genuine, ensure that it is noted who is allowed to make decisions on behalf of the customer and under what circumstances so that attorneys and deputies do not need to go through the same procedure several times.
The guidance further advises that “there is nothing in the law which says that you must see the original LPA” and it notes that photocopies, scanned images and certified or office copies can be acceptable alternatives and that companies should publish clear policies for accepting legal documents, so attorneys and deputies know exactly what is expected of them.
The guidance states that it sets out “clear policies and advice. It provides clarity to the law and helpful information which can ease the burden and stresses that new and current care givers face on a day-to-day basis, by making their simple transactions as smooth and problem free as possible”.
As someone who helps deputies and attorneys who may be struggling with these issues, this guidance is a welcome step in the right direction in helping both them and, ultimately, those for whom they are acting.