Office of the Public Guardian finally starts to get some serious public scrutiny

The Office of the Public Guardian should be a wonderful public service, helping people have more control over how their lives are sorted out if they get to a point where they can’t make decisions for themselves. That’s the theory anyway. The reality is somewhat different, as I’ve chronicled with their long and complicated paperwork:

It is voluminous with people being told to read 88 pages of guidance booklets before even starting on filling in the paperwork for Lasting Powers of Attorney:

Paperwork for a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)

Once the paperwork is completed, there is a charge of £240 to register it (though with discounts available to some).

The paperwork itself fails to impress with several minor errors and inconsistencies, but more fundamentally, much of the paperwork is duplicated, because the law lays down two separate processes (one for health and welfare issues and one for financial issues). Rather than imaginatively address the problem – such as by producing one combined booklet which, for legal purposes, counts as two, or by public lobbying to amend the law – the Office of the Public Guardian seems to sit by content with such duplication.

More troubling is that the Office of the Public Guardian gets almost no meaningful scrutiny. As I previously wrote:

Looking through Hansard, the Office of the Public Guardian rarely features, except as part of wider questions about how much government bodies spent on Christmas decorations and the like. The specific role of the OPG goes almost undebated, and I have not been able to find any debate on either its performance indicators or annual reports. There is a similar lack of coverage from political parties more widely and from thinks tanks and the media. Neither the Conservative nor Liberal Democrat websites return any hits for “Office of the Public Guardian” for example.

Some MPs show a brief interest in its workings. The number of applications quoted above comes from a written question tabled by Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow and Conservative Dominic Grieve tabled a question which unearthed a disturbing pattern of a steadily growing volume of complaints about the Office of the Public Guardian. Conservative MP Ian Taylor too has put some pressure on with a written question about the time taken to process paperwork as have Andrew Selous (Conservative) and Annette Brooke (Lib Dem), while Tom Brake (Lib Dem) asked about staffing levels. These examples and a smattering of others are, however, one offs. A brief piece of interest from an MP and then silence in Hansard resumes.

There is now some good news however. The BBC has turned its eye to the OPG’s performance in a Radio 4 documentary, ‘Court of Protection cost me £50,000‘, and the new Liberal Democrat MP Duncan Hames has also been taking an interest in its work as has his colleague Mark Williams.

Less promising is the explanation that the Office of the Public Guardian has given me as to why there is so much duplication in its process. The answer? Because that’s the way the law is. In a narrow sense, that is a fair answer. But it’s also a pretty insipid verdict on the Office of Public Guardian’s management if they know they run a system with needless duplication yet aren’t pressing for the law to be changed so that they can put an end to that waste.

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  • Nicholas Coni 17th Jul '11 - 11:28am

    Having sent off the Lasting Power of Attorney forms and the cheque (both excessive, as commented by Mark Pack last August), I have eventually been notified that the appointment of Attorney 1 is invalid because I had forgotten that, intending to confirm his exact year of birth, I had left out its final digit – so I must do a new LPA and send a further £240. I know they issue a warning that any error may make the application invalid, but I cannot conceive that there is any sound legal reason why subsequent insertion of the digit with a signature should not validate the document. It appears to be a mechanism whereby the state is ripping off some of its older and more vulnerable subjects.

  • matt (Bristol) 6th Feb '15 - 10:43am

    There is already a Law Commission review of a key area of mental capacity legislation overseen by the CoP / OPG – not sure that ripping up the department ahead of that would cause anything but chaos.

    In general, there is an enormous lack of awareness about mental capacity law.For a start, educating NHS professionals better in its workings would help members of the public be infitely better informed and give the CoP / OPG a leg-up just they’re not getting right now.

  • Are the OPG an autonomous body that answer to no one? I sent in (via a solicitor) an application for LPA for my mother 5 months ago. Since that time the OPG claimed they didn’t receive the application, even though my bank statement clearly showed the cheque for the application fee had been cashed. I was then told I needed to send them a photocopy of the cheque (from my bank) which I did, they then claimed they didn’t recognise the sort code or account number for whoever cashed the cheque. I was then asked to request my bank to put a trace on the cheque, which they did, to cut a very long story short, the cheque was cashed by their “insolvency department”. The fee has now been refunded to my account, but, the OPG appear to have lost my application form, and will not confirm if they have received a certified copy from my solicitor. In fact the OPG will not communicate with me (or my solicitor) in any way whatsoever, so 5 months down the line I have no idea what I’m supposed to do next. They have not offered a single apology, I also sent in an official complaint but they didn’t even acknowledge that either. Unfortunately the OPG appears to be a shambolic department that answers to no one, and it seems that it is impossible to complain about them. It has cost me £90 to get a doctor to sign the application form and £300 in solicitors fees. Marvellous.

  • £220 for a LPAs to be perused and stamped. No interviews, no assessment just whether the i’s are dotted or the T’s crossed. OPG is the biggest rip off in Britain and when the solicitor fees are taken into account nobody in their right mind will use the service.
    Shame on all the politicians who allowed this to happen.

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