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Powers of Attorney – Hints for Carers in Dealing with Banks

October 18, 2014

Introduction

This note is intended for people who care for a relative who is beginning to find it difficult to cope with his or her finances and wants you to take away the worry. There is a certain amount you can do informally; for example if he or she has difficulty trying to speak to a bank on the phone, you could sit beside her, get her to identify herself to the bank and to authorise the bank to speak to you. But she may find it difficult to answer the identity questions in which case she will be cut off, usually without apology. It is wise to persuade her to grant you a power of attorney. You can read about these at on the Office of the Public Guardian website https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-the-public-guardian.

I will assume that your relative either has granted, or intends to grant, a Lasting Power of Attorney – Property and Finance (LPA). The process of creating and registering the LPA is relatively straightforward and is clearly described on the website. Just two tips here:

  • You will need to find two people who have known your relative (the ‘donor’ or grantor of the power) for at least two years and are not relatives, to certify the donor is mentally capable of granting you the power. Failing that you have to get someone acting in their professional capacity to do so. The obvious choices are GPs or solicitors. We would recommend the donor’s GP – there will be a fee of course. You may have very good friends of yours who have not known your relative but are prepared to say they have. Don’t accept their offer. You would get the power registered, but if the donor subsequently develops dementia and starts accusing you of stealing her money the validity of the LPA could be challenged and you and your friends could be in serious trouble.
  • Consider asking your relative to appoint two attorneys, yourself as carer to sign the cheques and to ask questions as necessary, and someone else who is assertive and can help you battle with the banks. That person could also take over if you are unable to continue. If you feel able to fight your own corner it might be simpler to have the second person appointed as an alternate.

Having got the LPA registered and having received the original back, you may think that you do not need to use it for a while and you can sit back and relax. BAD MISTAKE dealing with banks is time consuming and needs perseverance, and self belief.

Problems with Banks

Our experience together with comments on message boards such as, http://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/showthread.php?36520-Banks-and-power-of-attorney and

http://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/showthread.php?35074-Online-Banking&highlight=bank+power+att.

suggests that although banks will handle powers of attorney, they are not well set up to do so:

  • Procedures are unclear.
  • Most staff do not know how to handle a power of attorney, but are too often reluctant to admit it and may give you false advice.
  • It is difficult to get through to those who do know.
  • Branch and HQ staff will contradict each other
  • Different customers have very different experiences with the same bank.
  • banks can lose powers of attorney
  • Some banks are better than others
  • Some terms and conditions are plain wrong – e.g. they require a Lasting Power of Attorney Registered with the Court of protection, whereas in fact LPAs are registered with the Office of the Public Guardian

You can get through this, but it is you versus the banks. Banks do not have to offer facilities to attorneys. The government recognises this, but has no intention of changing this situation[1]. In consequence official bodies such as the Office of the Public Guardian, The Financial Ombudsman, or the Financial Conduct Authority can do nothing to help. Short of civil action your only weapons are the bank’s reputation and your power to switch. It is essential to find out as much as you can as soon as you can about what services they will provide and how to use them. Then consider whether you should switch to another bank.

Step 1 – Planning

Think through all the banks etc. you need to deal with. Decide what services you need from them both as soon as possible and in the future e.g. telephone banking, power to sign cheques, use of debit cards, faster payments, on line banking, savings etc.

Step 2 – Gather the information

Never let the original LPA out of your hands for more than a few minutes at a time while it is copied. It is wise to obtain several certified copies. Copies can be certified by people such as solicitors or accountants. Most will charge a fee – shop around and try to get a discount on multiple copies.

Make sure you have proof of identity – normally valid passport or driving licence for both donor and attorney(s), but the bank where the donor has an account may not need the donor’s proof of identity. If you don’t have these forms of identity you need to contact the branch to see what options there might be.

Acquire branch phone numbers if you can, though you may find that branches never answer the phone.

Ideally acquire brochures on powers of attorney for each bank you want to deal with, either downloading them from the website or from a branch if you are nearby. These will not give you all the information your will subsequently require, but may prompt useful questions.

Step 3 – Make an appointment at a branch

Phone the branch if you can, explain what you need to do and discuss. Say you hope this will not be interrupted by a cash delivery etc. If you cannot phone the branch call in and make the appointment or you may find a way of getting HQ to make the appointment for you.

Step 4 – Meeting at the branch

Make sure you take all the documentation including your list of requirements. Offer them the original power of attorney to copy and make it clear at the outset that you will not leave the branch without it. If they say a problem has arisen and they cannot copy it now then demand the original back and offer a certified copy. If they will not accept that, then demand the original back saying you need for another appointment today, and you hope that when you call again they can copy it while you wait. Remember banks can and do lose powers of attorney. Never trust them to send it back in the mail to you.

Once they have registered the power of attorney you can discuss your requirements:

Telephone banking – we suggest you ask for this straight away. Try and get the form filled in then and there. But it is not enough to be registered; you need to know how to use it. If you phone the normal bank number and supply the account number by keying it in or talking to a machine then it is a pretty fair bet that either you will not get through the menus or if you get through to a person they will not know how to help you and probably just say you have done it wrong. You may need a special phone number and be told how to bypass the menus.

Paying Bills – it may be that all bills can be paid by cheque. All you need to know is what needs to happen in order that you as attorney can sign them. You may be told you can use the donor’s cheque book using your signature and adding the letters ‘POA’; or you might be told you need a new cheque book and that cheques signed by the donor would no longer be honoured. In the latter case you need to know what happens if the donor is temporarily disabled, say by a stroke, but then recovers and wants to sign cheques again.

Drawing Cash – You could simply use the donor’s card at an ATM. The bank would certainly not approve and you might get found out. You should ask how you can do this legally. The donor might be able to sign cheques but not get to an ATM.

Using the debit card at a shop – You might want to buy food for the donor at a supermarket. Ask what your options are given that the donor might occasionally want to go to a supermarket using the trolley for support, and then to pay the bill. Of course if you can make all the purchases and pay yourself back from the donor’s account by cheque some of the above requirements may be superfluous.

After the meeting – you should have been taking notes. Write a letter setting out what you have learned and get the bank to confirm your account is correct.

Have your needs been adequately addressed? – If not consider switching the account.

Step 5 – Check that telephone banking works. It does? Have a cup of tea!

Complaints

You may need to make a formal complaint. You may be encouraged to make the complaint by phone ‘to get the problem resolved quickly’. That’s as may be, but you really do need a written record of both your complaint and their response. If you complain by phone insist that they confirm the main points in writing, but keep your own notes in case they have ‘misunderstood’. If you complain in writing they may respond by phone, even if you have said that is not acceptable. Again insist on a letter setting out what they said. If you do not have an adequate written record any subsequent reference to the Financial Conduct Authority is likely to be fruitless.

GOOD LUCK!

The above advice is offered in good faith, but the author cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of relying on it. He would like to hear any comments at dhs648@hotmail.co.uk.

[1]”Valuing every voice, respecting every right: Making the case for the Mental Capacity Act,  The Government’s response to the House of Lords  Select Committee Report on the Mental Capacity Act 2005″ , para. 8.14.

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