Labour complicates powers of attorney

The old-style, simple enduring power of attorney is about to be replaced by an expensive and complicated New Labour alternative, the lasting power of attorney. Get a simple one before the end of September.

The Daily Telegraph carries a story abut the new lasting power of attorney which, it seems, will become the only legal way in which a person can delegate the conduct of their affairs from 1 October.

In true New Labour style, the new form is long, complex and expensive. A whole new team of civil servants has been set up (naturally) to manage the new forms, called the Office of the Public Guardian.

The simple old form, called an enduring power of attorney, was four pages long and required only the bare minimum of detail. It did not have to be registered until invoked. The new form will not only cost much more to draw up, but must be registered when made. According to the Telegraph article, the new-style power may be in two parts, each of which will involved a £150 registration fee.

The total outlay could reach easily £1,000. The present form costs between £100 and £150 to draw up and a fee of £120 when – and only when – registered.

It is not that the new provisions – to do with personal welfare – are necessarily bad, simply that not everyone wants them. Most people want a short, simple, cheap document to cover their financial affairs. If they want something more complex, they could, of course have it. Now they do not have the choice – if they want to make a power of attorney at all, they must do so in the long-winded complex way and pay large fees.

What is it about these ghastly people that they feel it their right and their duty to impose all this expensive crap on us? I don’t know which particular little nobody is to blame for this particular imposition but, like Home Information Packs, it represents interference by government in something which works well enough as it is – and where it does not work it is not the role of government to interfere.

The Telegraph article ends with a weaselly government statement:

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice defended claims that the costs will soar. He said: “The cost of registering lasting powers of attorney will be £150 compared to enduring powers of attorney which costs £120.

“This is a small rise in cost to cover the new systems needed to deal with the additional safeguards put in place by LPAs which will help to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society”.

This ignores the substantially increased costs of making the bloody things in the first place, as well as the fact that the registration fees must be paid upfront, not at the time of use (which may, of course, never happen). The usual bleeding-heart reference to protecting “some of the most vulnerable people in society” is irrelevant to most ordinary people who just want a simple way of giving their children power to manage their bank account.

The upshot will be the usual unintended consequence of Labour interference – people will simply do without a power of attorney if they have to pay £1,000 to do it and if they have to submit to yet more state interference in their lives, more form-filling and yet another government database entry about them.

The system will, of course, not work. All this government’s job-creation opportunities for consultants and civil servants have become expensive failures whose primary purpose seems to be the careers of the pen-pushers who run them. You can catch the flavour of the thing by using the government’s own information systems to find out about the changes.

A search for lasting powers of attorney takes you to an old page of the now-defunct Department of Constitutional Affairs. There is no clue on the page that the DCA’s functions have been absorbed in the Ministry of Justice and no redirect, manual or automatic, to take you to a current government page. For a government which wants us think it cares so very much, it make very little effort to care about the basics.

Try the MoJ web site instead. There is no clue on the Home Page as to where to start looking for information about this change which is a week away from compulsory implementation. Press on a link called “Mental Capacity booklets” and get a page saying that the server at http://www.justivce.gov.uk is taking too long to respond. Repeat, with same result.

Type powers of attorney into the site’s search box. There are apparently 1598 hit sorted by relevance. Take the first one (presumably the most relevant). It is headed Fees for the Court of Protection and Office of the Public Guardian – just what I wanted to check. In fact that takes you to a random place in a child-like coloured booklet called easyreadfeesresponse – part 3 which appears to be part of a reaction to a consultative stage in the process of drafting the legislation. It is illustrated with cartoon-type drawings of people (mainly black and brown people for some reason – are they “the most vulnerable people in society” to whom the MoJ refers so patronisigly?). The next entries appear to be of the same kind. I give up.

I imagine it is possible to find a simple statement of the law and of the new fees. Instead, 20 minutes of trawling the web takes me via an out-of-date web site of a defunct Department to an out-of-date and patronising kiddy’s booklet.

The information service is like the legislation itself – lots of attention to producing easy-to-read, patronising, content, buried in a navigational nightmare making it impossible to find out what the true position is. All very New Labour.

If I were you, I would get your wishes written down whilst the simple old enduring powers of attorney are still effective. Some firms are offering low-cost documents for the last few days of September – here is an example. Once that window closes, you are stuck with New Labour’s complicated alternative.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
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