Powers of Attorney go online

There has been an impressive degree of digital awareness within the legal sector in recent years. From firms embracing social media, to the High Court successfully setting up and running its own YouTube channel, for a profession that has traditionally been seen as fairly resistant to change, the digital revolution has really been embraced. The latest innovation that is taking advantage of all things web based is an initiative by the Ministry of Justice, which takes users through the process of applying for a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) online to try and help avoid mistakes.

Currently, according to the Office of the Public Guardian, around a fifth of the LPA applications that it receives contain errors. With the numbers of people applying for LPAs increasing by 53% over the past two or three years, this is resulting in a considerably increased workload for staff at the Office of the Public Guardian. The LPA is essentially a document that allows an individual to appoint someone else to make crucial decisions relating to areas such as money and health, should that person no longer have the capacity to do so – so it’s important that the information in it is correct.

The new system that has been developed by the Ministry of Justice is designed to replace the much slower paper based system and it is hoped that by putting the application online the numbers of errors will decrease significantly. However, those behind the scheme have been quick to point out that, although it is online, it will still provide the same security and safeguards required to protect peoples’ interests as the old system. Alan Eccles, the Public Guardian, said of the new process, “‘More and more people are now taking the important decision to apply for Lasting Power of Attorney and we want to make sure we provide the best possible service for them - one that is simple, straightforward and effective. The proposed new online application process will make applying simpler and quicker, while the changes we plan to make in the ‘back-office’ will make the whole service more efficient.”

Anyone who has ever been faced with LPA documentation will know that it is all too easy to make mistakes on the forms, whether it is misunderstanding the meaning of the terms used - for example the ‘donor’ (the person making the LPA) and the ‘attorney’ (the person to whom the power of attorney is being given) - or getting confused by legal concept such as jointly and severally. Some of the most common mistakes involve something as simple as forgetting to date the form, or including the wrong names in the wrong places. The issue of witnesses also arises regularly – for example it is written in the small print that the donor of the LPA cannot be a witness for the attorney’s declaration, but this can often be missed and so the forms become useless – and confusion over the number of attorneys required can also make the registration process difficult.

The new online LPA application system is designed to eliminate all of these kinds of common problems – applicants can either complete the process themselves or ask for help from a solicitor or other trusted person