It’s not always easy to know what the right thing to do is when dealing with people who are managing the finances of your customers. So here are some tips to help you get things right when dealing with a "power of attorney".
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.
If someone asks you for help registering a power of attorney or has a problem involving one, they might be acting on behalf of someone who is seriously ill or has lost the mental capacity to act for themselves. It’s likely that the person you’re speaking to is under a great deal of stress or is upset. So taking the time to understand their circumstances – and how you can help – can make all the difference.
If you're asked to register a power of attorney then the person named on the document has been given permission by your customer to manage some or all of their finances. The power of attorney will explain what powers it gives and to who. You'll need to register the document on your computer systems, so the attorney – the person named on the document – can act on behalf of your customer. Find out more about the different types of power of attorney here.
Every bank has their own process for registering a power of attorney. Most will ask you to get copies of documentation, including:
Most of the complaints banks receive involving power of attorney problems are as a result of delays, lost documents and incorrect or missing information on computer systems. But the majority of complaints can be avoided if you follow these tips.
- Speak to the department that registers the power of attorney so you understand what will happen next.
- Speak to the person registering the power of attorney in a private room if possible, so you can understand their situation and what you can do to help.
- Take the time to explain the process, the information you need and what you’re going to do with it.
- Give realistic timescales for how long it will take.
- Retain the original documents. If they get lost or damaged it can cause a great deal of distress – and it takes time to get replacements.
- Keep people waiting while you get the information you need. If it’s going to take a short while, explain what you’re doing and give timescales.
- Forget to follow up. If there’s a problem or you can’t get hold of the people you need to speak to, arrange to call the consumer later when you’ve sorted things out.
- Ignore emergencies. There may be a reason why the power of attorney has to be processed quickly. Find out more and ask your manager for help.
- Insist on the donor being present. They might have health problems that make this difficult.
However, sometimes problems involving a power of attorney can involve dealing with difficult situations.
When a power of attorney is registered on your computer systems – the attorney – the person who registered the power of attorney – will be able to act for your customer. They may only be able to do some things, so you should always check what’s permitted before acting.
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, providing they have the mental capacity to do so.
Sometimes, the donor’s mental capacity can deteriorate so much that it might be appropriate for the Court of Protection to decide who will act on your customer’s behalf.
If there is a lasting power of attorney in place but there’s a dispute between the attorney and the donor you can speak to the Office of the Public Guardian, who can often help mediate in situations like this. They will make the necessary enquiries and decide the best course of action.
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.