Carers struggle to exercise lasting power of attorney

As Carers Week highlights the unpaid workforce of 6.5 million we look at one of many frustrations: getting banks to recognise your lasting power of attorneyThe number of unpaid carers in the UK, who shoulder the responsibility of looking after a frail, ill or disabled friend or relative, stands at 6.5 million, and is set to rocket in the next couple of decades, according to figures from Carers UK.

“We estimate that it will hit 9 million by 2037 as a result of our ageing population, and the fact that people are living longer with disabilities and long-term health conditions,” says Steve McIntosh, policy manager for Carers UK. “More and more of us will need help and advice to cope with the pressures caring puts on our careers and on family finances.”

The number of carers providing free support has already climbed by 600,000, or around 11%, in the past decade. This hidden army, which saves the nation a staggering £119bn each year, is the focus of Carers Week, starting on 10 June, which is a partnership of nine charities aimed at increasing awareness of the emotional, physical and financial impact of taking on this role.

Carers often find their income takes a hit if they have to give up work or reduce hours to look after a loved one, as well as tackling a range of other financial considerations. “These include arranging payment of household bills for the person they’re caring for, applying for financial support and benefits on their behalf, or managing their different bank accounts, pensions, savings or debts,” says McIntosh.

Increasing numbers of people manage a relative’s financial affairs if they have lost the capacity to do so themselves. There was a rise of almost a quarter in the number of powers of attorney registered with the Office of the Public Guardian in the year to April 2013, at around 246,000, compared to 199,000 the previous year.

Lasting power of attorney was introduced in October 2007, replacing the previous system of enduring powers of attorney (EPA) – although an EPA created before October 2007 is valid.

These are legal documents that give a trusted person authority to manage your affairs, and are designed to be recognised by financial institutions, care homes and local authorities, as well as tax, benefits and pension authorities.

However, using these powers can prove stressful and frustrating alongside caring responsibilities, as Jarina Choudhury, 40, discovered. She took on enduring power with her sister in June 2005 for her mother Jubeda, 67, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

“My sister had the foresight to think about what might lie ahead, and put this in place,” she says. “Mum was still fairly independent at the time, and able to take care of her own financial matters, but I’m glad we didn’t wait until crisis point.”

Last year Jarina was advised by Barclays to exercise her powers after the family had trouble getting a cheque cashed to pay for care.

However, it took many months for Jarina to be granted access to her mum’s account. “This has been hugely difficult to implement,” she says. “It was actually a blessing that I was made redundant from my post as development manager at a national youth charity a few months ago, as I’ve needed this time between jobs to sort the financial side out.”

She was asked to provide ID for Jubeda – and this led to more hold-ups. “Mum didn’t have a valid passport, or a driving licence,” she says. “I was told by Barclays head office that her local branch would accept her blue badge for disability parking, but then, when I went in for an appointment, they said it was not an acceptable form of ID. I took the power of attorney document into the bank with me – but they never asked for this, which was confusing.”

She adds: “I understand banks want to protect against fraud, but this can create so many barriers for those acting with integrity who face many layers of bureaucracy. It took such a long time to get things sorted – from March last year to April this year – but we had to get access to the account, which mum’s disability living allowance is paid into, to pay the nursing home bill, among other caring costs.”

She only managed to resolve the issues by getting hold of the branch manager. “Generally, though, banks aren’t moving with the times, and I found that staff weren’t trained when it came to dealing with carers,” she says.

A spokesman for Barclays says: “It is evident that, on this occasion, we have failed to meet the expectations of our customer, for which we apologise.

“We have found that more and more people need to arrange POAs and, having listened to the needs of our customers, we aim to make this a quick and easy process and have a specialist dedicated team that can help.”

While setting up an LPA doesn’t automatically smooth the process of managing a bank or building society account on behalf of someone else, new guidance announced in March should help.

The British Bankers’ Association (BBA) has put in place a framework so that banks and building societies have a consistent approach to help the industry clean up its act, along with a leaflet to help consumers.

It is wise to seek advice and information to prepare for the practical and financial challenges of caring sooner rather than later – not least because the person you are caring for needs to be able to assign you LPA.

“It’s useful to have discussions around these issues with family members upfront to get things in order, and to know the point at which these powers may need exercising and what someone’s wishes would be,” says Lucy Harmer, head of services for charity Age UK.

“There might be issues around mobility, for example, as when people start to lose this, then shopping or dealing with day-to-day finance can be hard – there are lots of reasons to put power of attorney in place. If you don’t, then relatives may face delays and expense in applying to the court of protection to get access and take control of your assets and finances.”

It costs £130 to register an LPA, while anyone on means-tested benefits, or who has an income of less than £12,000, can get an exemption or reduction.

These documents are not just for the elderly, as younger people may become incapacitated through accident or illness.

There are two types of LPA: one is a property and financial affairs LPA, and another covers decisions about healthcare, known as a personal welfare LPA. The former can be used while someone still has capacity to make their own decisions, whereas a personal welfare LPA can only be used once they have lost this.

An LPA must be signed by a certificate provider – a solicitor or someone else of your choosing – who certifies that you understand the LPA and have not been pressurised into signing it.

Hope of new carers rights

The government’s care bill, now being debated in Parliament, is set to bring significant changes – including new rights for carers, along with the introduction of a cap of around £72,000 on the sum people have to pay towards the costs of long-term care.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK, says: “The reforms in the care bill will also see carers able to access advice from local councils to help them find and buy care services, which is a big improvement as many families simply do not know where to go for the most basic information.

“They will gain a right to have their needs as a carer assessed along with the person they are caring for, which could allow better access to respite services. However without proper funding we fear that local authorities will struggle to cope with a greatly increased demand for assessments.”