If you’re helping a relative or friend manage their finances, it can be stressful, particularly if the person is ill or losing their mental capacity. That’s why it’s helpful to know what your rights are if you have a problem. Here are some tips:
A power of attorney is a way of giving someone the legal power to manage your finances.
You can take out a power of attorney if you need someone to help you manage your finances. This might be because you’re out of the country, or recuperating from an operation. Many people take them out if they are ill or are concerned about losing the mental capacity to make their own decisions.
The rules around powers of attorney can be complicated. When you ask a bank to register a power of attorney, chances are the staff may need to follow their process to make sure they’re doing everything right. It makes sense to make an appointment with the bank to register the power of attorney so you aren’t kept waiting in a branch while things are sorted out.
When you register a power of attorney, your bank will take copies of the document and will ask you for proof of your identity too so they can register the details on their system. This will mean you’re able to act on behalf of the donor – the person giving you permission to handle their finances. You’ll need to lodge this with the Office of the Public Guardian before you take it to the bank.
You’ll need to take the power of attorney (or a certified copy) with you when you speak to the bank, along with some proof of your identity – usually a passport or driving licence – and proof of your address, like a utilities bill or bank statement.
Contact the business first to find out what they need, as every bank has their own process for registering a power of attorney. And remember; you shouldn't need to hand over your original documents – the bank should take copies for you.
- Book an appointment to speak to a member of staff. Explain that you need to register a power of attorney and ask them what documents you need to bring in.
- Tell the bank anything they might need to know that'll make it easier for them to help you. If you're concerned about the mental capacity of the person you're acting for, it makes sense to let them know.
- Explain if there are any financial matters that might mean you need to get the power of attorney processed urgently. Though the bank should not skip any steps, they may be able to help you avoid a difficult situation.
- Hand over original copies of your documents. If the staff member is unsure, show them this guidance and ask them to contact their staff helpline or a manager. The ombudsman also has guidance for businesses they can refer to.
- Get upset. Managing someone’s finances can be difficult, especially if they’re losing their mental capacity. But if you find you’re hitting a brick wall, ask if you can speak to the manager or call the Office of the Public Guardian on 0300 456 0300. They can explain to you and the bank what they should be doing.
But sometimes problems involving a power of attorney can involve dealing with difficult situations.
When the power of attorney is registered on the bank’s computer systems you should be able to act on behalf of the donor. But you'll only be able to carry out the transactions permitted on the power of attorney.
It’s important to remember that the donor – the person who gave their authority to set up the power of attorney – can still carry on managing their own finances too.
Sometimes, the donor’s mental capacity can deteriorate so much that it may be appropriate for the court of protection to appoint a deputy to permanently handle their affairs if there isn’t a lasting power of attorney in place.
These situations can be particularly distressing – and it’s not down to the bank to decide if their customer has lost their mental capacity to make their own decisions.
You can find out more in our guidance on power of attorney and dealing with difficult situations.
We're a free service with the power to sort out problems with financial services. You can speak to the ombudsman if you’re unsure what to do with a power of attorney complaint.
The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) protects people in England and Wales who might not have the mental capacity to make certain decisions for themselves, such as about their health and finance.