Banks' confusion over Power of Attorney and CoP deputies cause problems for families


Families of mentally disabled people "are being made to suffer twice" because of banks' confusion between Court of Protection deputies and individuals with Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

Lasting Power of Attorney

The LPA, which replaced the Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) in 2007, meets the needs of people who foresee a time when they will be unable to look after their own personal and financial affairs. The LPA allows them to make arrangements for a relative or trusted friend to be authorised as an attorney to make decisions on their behalf.

However, when someone who lacks mental capacity – known at the time of appointing an attorney as a donor – has not granted an LPA or EPA, or when an existing attorney dies while the donor is still alive, the Court of Protection (CoP) is obliged to appoint a deputy.

For this reason, many experts in family law will advise a donor to appoint 2 individuals with LPA in case the donor outlives one of them.

While the numbers of attorneys or deputies run to thousands each year, staff at financial institutions are often unaware of how to deal with 3rd parties seeking access to donors' accounts.

In 1 case, Teresa Sienkiewicz was made a CoP deputy in 2009 following the death of her husband, who had held power of attorney over the affairs of her mother, Joyce Thomas.

Mrs Thomas lived in a care home for which her savings were needed to pay the £30,000 annual bill. Although in taking up her late husband's responsibilities Mrs Sienkiewicz required access to a bond held by her mother, Nationwide refused her access for 9 months.

Mrs Sienkiewicz complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), after which Nationwide paid her £321 for distress, inconvenience and loss of interest. Despite the building society's apology, Mrs Sienkiewicz said this did not compensate her for her time or the distress caused.

She ran into similar problems with Barclays, which refused to update the standing order for her mother's care home bills or to transfer funds from her mother's deposit account to her current account. This led to the refusal of a valid cheque.

The bank also continued to write to Mrs Thomas – an elderly woman with dementia and no capacity to deal with her own affairs – and improperly insisted on seeing a copy of Mr Sienkiewicz's death certificate to remove his power of attorney over Mrs Thomas's investments.

Barclays' response was to acknowledge it had made a mistake in asking for the original death certificate, "for which we have apologised".

While Mrs Sienkiewicz's complaint was upheld, she wrote again to the FOS, which fields some 25 similar cases a month, to urge improvements in the banks' conduct towards attorneys and deputies.

Aware there is "room for improvement", the British Bankers' Association said it is working closely with the Office of the Public Guardian.

Mrs Sienkiewicz noted the thousands of deputies appointed each year. "Yet the families of those affected are being made to suffer twice because of the failure by some financial institutions to train their staff adequately to deal with these situations."

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