Alan Eccles, Public Guardian and Chief Executive of the Office of the Public Guardian, published his report to Parliament in December entitled “Fundamental Review of the Supervision of Court Appointed Deputies by the Public Guardian“. It follows “Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian – enabling digital by default” published in August 2014.
Both reports cover key areas where the Public Guardian wishes to see change. The proposals, once implemented, should go a considerable way to protecting and supporting those who are worried about losing mental capacity or have lost capacity to manage their affairs.
The reports stem from common concerns and issues that are often raised with me. They include comments such as:
“Why are the forms so complicated”?
“Why does it take so long?
“Why does it cost so much?”
The Office of the Public Guardian is a government digital champion and believes that greater use of technology and innovation are at the heart of delivering a more efficient service.
There is little doubt that one of the drivers of the Fundamental Review is concern over cost. The report states that the proposals will provide:
“better control of professional deputy charges through annual plans, asset inventories, estimates of charges, fuller annual reporting and the better understanding of the professional deputy caseload resulting from the specialist teams building their knowledge and relationships”.
As I read through these reports again, my thoughts were focused on what families should be aware of when a professional deputy is required to manage the financial affairs of a loved one (“a Patient”) who is unable to manage on their own.
So what questions should families be asking a law firm or professional deputy to ensure that costs are kept down?
- Get out of London – professional deputies charge rates that are set out by the Supreme Court Costs Office. The hourly rates lawyers can charge are fixed. By way of example, for a senior lawyer, in London the chargeable rate is £402 per hour, in Bristol £217 per hour. The vast amount of deputyship work, apart from family contact, can be done outside of London. Clarke Willmott has offices both in and out of London. I will see clients in London but we do the work in Bristol. It keeps the cost down.
- Delegation. Does the law firm have a dedicated Court of Protection team? Does it have experienced lawyers at all levels? You don’t need a senior lawyer to help a family set up a direct debit (and you don’t want to pay a senior lawyer for that service), but you do need a senior lawyer to help with a complex statutory will.
- Case management and innovation – a dedicated Court of Protection team will have case management and software which helps keep the cost down. Many Court of Protection forms are repetitive, but data can now be entered very efficiently with the right software.
- Share the load – families may find running a Patient’s affairs overwhelming; hence the need to appoint a professional deputy. Nevertheless, the involvement of willing family members can be very helpful in keeping running costs down. They may be able to help, for instance, with aspects of day to day management. Other areas will require more professional input, such as putting in place a statutory will, tax issues, home renovations and the employment of carers.
The Office of the Public Guardian, Court of Protection and law firms need to innovate, change and look at how they can offer a more efficient, individual service. As a result many of the questions I am commonly asked should no longer be a concern for worried families who are trying to protect the interests of a loved one.