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21 Sep 2021

Power of Attorney registration delays of up to 20 weeks could leave families in legal limbo

The Office of the Public Guardian says registration times won't return to normal for the 'next couple of months'
Power of attorney delays

Which? Legal has heard from people in urgent need of Powers of Attorney whose applications have been affected by serious delays at the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

The OPG, responsible for processing Power of Attorney applications, said in July that people would now have to wait up to 20 weeks to register the vital document. Before the pandemic, the average timeframe was 10 weeks.

Here, Which? looks at what's causing the delays and offers advice on how to make registration go more smoothly.

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What's causing the delays?

The Office of the Public Guardian estimates that it receives over 3,000 applications for Power of Attorney every day.

The system it uses to process these is largely paper-based. In fact, it received an astounding 19m sheets of paper for the year 2019-20.

But with most of its workforce working from home, these documents have been harder to process.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Public Guardian told Which?, 'More staff have been allocated to speed up applications and, despite social distancing impacting capacity, waiting times are expected to decrease in the next couple of months.'

Why delays are a serious issue

Yet a couple of months can make all the difference when it comes to registering Power of Attorney, which gives someone else the legal power to make decisions about your finances and healthcare should you become ill.

Crucially, you can't put it in place after someone's lost capacity. Then it's too late.

Liz Sargent, who lives in Somerset, needed Power of Attorney registered urgently after her father had a stroke in April. Since then his condition has deteriorated.

'He has become unable to manage his financial affairs by himself and, as the full-time carer of my mother, this has had a big impact on their day-to-day lives,' she told Which?.

Because Liz's father had an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) - not a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which replaced EPAs in 2007 - her documents could be registered quicker (four weeks in total), since EPAs are fewer in number.

Nonetheless, she was still impacted by having to wait. 'My brother and I are now out of pocket to the tune of around £2,000 because of the expenses we have had to bear ourselves while waiting for the EPA to be registered,' she said.

Liz Truss
Liz Sargent

Is there a way to fast-track your application?

Liz was also shocked to discover when she made her application that there's no fast-tracking service for Powers of Attorney.

The Office of the Public Guardian told Which?, 'We prioritise urgent applications as normal practice, for example when an application highlights a critical factor such as terminal illness.'

But Liz told Which?: 'I didn't see any indication that further evidence could be submitted. There is a section in the registration form which suggests that further information, for instance, about the number of attorneys could be provided but it does not refer to any urgency.'

The introduction of a fast-tracking service is being considered by the government as part of its consultation on modernising Lasting Powers of Attorney.

It's also looking at the use of digital channels to speed up services, which could prevent delays like this from happening again in the future. The consultation closes on 13 October.

How to make registering a Power of Attorney quicker

If you need to register Powers of Attorney, there are a few common mistakes you should avoid to reduce the risk of the OPG delaying your application further:

  • Using the wrong form - there are two types of LPA: a health and welfare LPA and a property and financial LPA. Make sure you're filling in the right form for your purposes.
  • Signing the form in the wrong order - the forms must be signed by five people or sets of people, in a specific order. If the signatures and dates show this order wasn't followed, the application will be rejected.
  • Missing information - names, addresses, and dates of birth of the donor and attorneys must be included in full.

For more help with your application, get in touch with Which? Legal.