Wednesday, February 8, 2023

MP Stephen Metcalfe backs power of attorney bill

STEPHEN Metcalfe, MP for South Basildon & East Thurrock, spoke in the House of Commons on Friday 9 December to introduce his Private Members’ Bill on the Powers of Attorney.

A Lasting Power of Attorney document is an extremely powerful legal agreement. As many know, it is designed to protect and empower people who may lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions about their care, treatment, and financial affairs. The document allows a person (the donor) to grant decision-making powers to another individual (the attorney) in the circumstance where they may lose mental capacity to make their own decisions. As such, it is important that there are secure protections for donors during the application process.

However, there are some pitfalls in the current system when a making a Lasting Power of Attorney application. First, identity checks need to be strengthened so that the vulnerable are more protected from fraud. Second, the application process is onerous, with high administrative costs. Further, with an increasingly elderly population, the Office of the Public Guardian is dealing with more and more Lasting Power of Attorney applications every year – last year nearly 1 million. Third, a Powers of Attorney document is one of the few essential documents that is not offered in digital form. Fourth, Chartered Legal Executives are unable to certify copies of Powers of Attorney, despite having the ability to draft the document itself. Therefore, the application process of obtaining a Lasting Power of Attorney document needs reform.

Stephen Metcalfe MP chose to introduce a Private Members’ Bill to Parliament on this topic to reform the law. Supported by the Ministry of Justice, the Powers of Attorney Bill will transform the way individuals make and register their Lasting Power of Attorney by introducing a digital channel, whilst also improving the paper alternative. Additionally, the Bill will enable Chartered Legal Executives to certify copies of Powers of Attorney, rather than restricting this to solicitors and accountants. Overall, the process will become simpler and safer, allowing for a more positive experience for the parties involved.

There will be increased safeguarding. In the future, only the donor will be able to apply to register the Lasting Power of Attorney. Further, new identity verification requirements must be met for a Lasting Power of Attorney application to be accepted. The Office of Public Guardian will also be required to notify all parties when a request for Lasting Power of Attorney is lodged and operate a triage system for certain types of objections. The Bill will also widen the group of people who can lodge an objection so that it includes parties not named in the Lasting Power of Attorney document itself. Therefore, the Bill will safeguard the welfare and finances of the most vulnerable.

Last Friday, Stephen introduced the Bill to Parliament for its Second Reading. Members from the Government bench and Opposition bench made important contributions which allowed for an informed debate. The Bill received Government backing and passed. It will now head to Committee stage where it will be examined in detail.

Stephen Metcalfe said: “Powers of Attorney, it goes without saying, are extremely powerful. The Bill that I have introduced to Parliament is relatively tight in scope and takes immense care to reform how individuals can apply for a Lasting Power Attorney.

It is important that we offer a digitised channel for individuals seeking to register a Lasting Power of Attorney in this digital age and I am pleased that, in doing so, this Bill introduces new safeguards for both digital and paper applications.

I am pleased the Bill received Government backing and look forward to it passing through Committee stage.”

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