Justine Clowes, Partner and Head of the Personal Law team at leading Cheshire law firm SAS Daniels has joined fellow members of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) in warning against proposals to turn the Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) registration process fully digital.
An LPA is a powerful legal document that allows a person to appoint trusted individuals to make important decisions about their finances and property on their behalf. Under the current process, a ‘wet signature’ – the physical signing of the document – is required by individuals who wish to register an LPA. But in a recently released paper, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) called for a fully digital system, whereby documents could be registered completely online.
Justine Clowes, who is also the former Chair of Solicitors for the Elderly, said: “We are extremely concerned by the FCA’s push for fully digital powers of attorney. Although we welcome initiatives that make LPAs more accessible, the security of older and vulnerable people is paramount. Under the current system, the FCA’s vision of a secure, end-to-end digital LPA registration process is simply not possible.
“Removing the requirement of a ‘wet signature’ has the potential to put thousands of people at risk of fraud and financial abuse. An LPA requires the understanding and consent of the donor, but without the witnessing of a physical signature, what is to stop a family member or friend registering a document on someone else’s behalf, perhaps even without their knowledge?
“LPAs are extremely powerful and complex documents, and the prospect of being able to take control of someone else’s bank account and even their property with the few clicks of a button is frankly reckless.”
Solicitors for the Elderly is an independent, national organisation of over 1,500 lawyers, such as solicitors, barristers, and chartered legal executives, who provide specialist legal advice for older and vulnerable people and their families. Last year, the organisation released a report raising concerns around the current online system for LPAs, which it claims already leaves older and vulnerable people open to abuse.
LPAs are processed by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), a public body under the Ministry of Justice. The OPG has previously considered changing the LPA application process as part of a gradual move to take all its processes online.