The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) have jointly initiated a project to modernise the process of making and registering lasting powers of attorney (LPAs), which may include an element of digitisation. They will be collaborating on a series of scoping events, roundtables and surveys to obtain research that will culminate in the publication of a consultation in spring 2021 to gather evidence and inform the future of the LPA service.
On 19 November the MoJ and OPG invited STEP to attend a virtual roundtable, which was introduced by Alex Chalk MP, Parliamentary under Secretary of State in the MoJ and hosted by Nick Goodwin, Public Guardian and Chief Executive of the OPG. During the roundtable, discussions were held on two specific areas of the research and engagement so far.
Improving safeguards for the donor in relation to identity checks
There was general consensus that there need to be more advanced identity checks for donors, which would consequently improve safeguards. It is a prevalent concern of the industry that identity fraud and theft are fairly accessible particularly if someone has access to a Health & Welfare LPA and the donor is incapacitated or vulnerable. It was also flagged that ID verification online may be technologically robust but there will be a small demographic, usually the more elderly, that do not have access to a computer or smartphone for verification. It was also reinforced that it is essential that any new online system is securely piloted within the industry before it is implemented.
The importance of the role of witnesses
It was recognised by attendees that the process of obtaining witnesses for LPA signing can add some gravitas and formality to the process, which in turn also gives the donor time to consider the importance of the legal document that is being created. It was also considered that it might be more appropriate to introduce digital signatures for the witnesses but to retain the obligation of the physical signature for the donor. On 9 November, STEP’s UK Industry News Digest covered highlights of the results of the first survey that has been undertaken, which showed that more than 90 per cent of 410 solicitors surveyed in England and Wales want to retain the rule requiring LPAs to be physically signed by the donor rather than by electronic means to prevent fraud.
We were informed that these areas have been marked for more extensive research under this initiative and will be discussed further.
The MoJ and OPG have stressed that empowering and protecting the individuals acting as donors in the LPA process is of paramount importance and amendments to the legislation will only be made if modernisation will provide the same level of protection or preferably enhance it. However, it is clear that the world is becoming more digital and we have seen accelerated evolution on the digital platform due to the COVID pandemic this year.
The MoJ and OPG intend to carry out extensive engagement within the industry, alongside the consultation next year, and will gather a wide range of evidence and expertise to understand user needs and challenges. STEP will continue to engage with the MoJ and OPG and monitor the progress of this initiative.