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Protectors of the vulnerable

In 2015 172 attorneys and deputies were removed from their appointed position because of financial mismanagement or theft. This is a 150% increase on the previous two years. Although this is a small number when you look at the number of lasting powers of attorney registered and deputies appointed it is still far from ideal for those individuals who are at the end of the abuse.

More often than not those individuals suffering at the hands of financial abuse are elderly or have capacity issues which means they cannot necessarily report the abuse when it happens. They may be isolated socially and geographically which means no-one is watching out for them. Abuse can be calculated and deliberate or justified as a reward or recompense for all the attorney or deputy has done. It can be small or significant but however it occurs it is wrong.

Unfortunately, statistics show that it is family members who are most likely to be the abuser with friends and carers following closely behind.

The Court of Protection is able to remove attorneys and deputies but very few cases actually end up before it for consideration. This means that there may be many more cases when attorneys or deputies should be removed where financial abuse is continuing.

You should never be afraid to report concerns to the Office of the Public Guardian. They will investigate the allegations made thoroughly . If an attorney or deputy has acted properly and in accordance with their duties the Office of the Public Guardian will say so. Where abuse has occurred they will report to the Court of Protection and make recommendations as to the course of action they feel should be followed.

Lawyers also have power to deal with abuse of vulnerable clients. We can advise on provisions in lasting powers of attorneys such as including accountability to third party clauses for the review of accounts and duties to consult with professional advisers. Advice to attorneys can cover their role and responsibilities to include what their powers are and what they can and cannot do. We should also be advising on the suitability of attorneys and deputies.

It is also important that we look for capacity issues, undue influence and persuasion and coercion in our clients and take steps to ensure that our clients are carrying out their wishes rather than those of a potential abuser. If you are ever asked to wait outside whilst a lawyer meets their client this is so we can speak to our client and provide evidence to support their autonomy when making decisions.

We all need to look out for each other. If you ever suspect abuse is occurring report this to the Office of the Public Guardian, Social Services, the Police or a lawyer who will know what steps to take.

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