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OPG confirms online services will launch in April

Reforms will prepare for increasing demand to register LPAs after receiving more than 100 responses to consultation

13 February 2013

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The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) will launch an online tool to simplify and reduce errors in the process for nominating a lasting power of attorney (LPA), it has announced.

The improvement is one of three principal reforms that take effect from April.

The OPG is moving most of its services online to prepare for the increasing demand to register LPAs and to make the process more accessible.

It aims to reduce the statutory waiting period for registration from six to four weeks to speed up the process while still retaining adequate safeguards.

Also, it will update regulations to allow deputies to bypass the current Court of Protection application when changing bond provider, with the original bond being automatically discharged after two years.

Some 125 responses to its consultation Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian informed the decisions.

More reforms will follow in April 2014. Among its plans, the OPG will look at merging forms to remove duplicate information and reduce administration, introducing an online search function for its registers and implementing an online payment facility for LPA and deputyship fees.

Major concerns

The majority of responses came from the legal profession (56 per cent) with 39 per cent from solicitors, and 9 per cent were lodged by members of the public.

Many respondents expressed concern about the amount of duplication in current LPA forms and language used. Recent customer testing of the online process showed a misunderstanding about legal wording, specifically the terms ‘jointly’ or ‘jointly and severally’. While most respondents agreed with the confusion, they wanted the terms to remain but with clearer guidance. One submission suggested: “Past attempts to use plain English versions failed dismally.”

There was widespread support for reducing the statutory waiting period. The suggested timeframes varied. Withers elder law team approved of the suggested change to four weeks while Senior Judge Lush suggested it should be abolished. Only a minority disapproved of the reduction citing possible fraud as their main concern.

Most respondents were in favour of the proposal to change the regulations to provide for the automatic discharge of a bond within two years of the commencement date of the bond with the new provider. A few respondents were against this with one asking whether convenience was overriding protection.

Continuous improvements

The consultation was the latest development since the Mental Capacity Act 2005 created the Public Guardian, supported by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

In October 2008, as part of the Act’s review, the OPG published a paper addressing the redesign of the LPA forms, which eventually led to the updating of forms and guidance in an effort to improve the services offered by the OPG.

Solicitor Carol McBride of Manchester-based firm Pannone described the new plans as “ambitious” and that they would take time to come to fruition. “It remains to be seen how easy the OPG will find it to serve both the government’s drive for offices of the state to embrace the digital revolution while also ensuring that the OPG’s most important stakeholders, those with mental capacity impairments, are sufficiently protected,” she said.

Public guardian Alan Eccles discussed the OPG’s plans in Private Client Adviser’s sister title Solicitors Journal last year. He said: “Our ambition is for every member of the adult population – that’s every adult over 18 – to be aware that [LPA] is a vehicle available to them and be able to make an informed decision as to whether it is appropriate for them to have one or not.”

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