With a steady and increasing trickle of cases involving the misappropriation of assets by attorneys appointed by people who have lost the ability to look after their own affairs, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has published a ‘safeguarding policy’ document designed to assist the prevention of abuse or neglect of vulnerable people.
The OPG has a public duty to ‘supervise deputies appointed by the Court of Protection, and to investigate complaints or concerns about the actions of deputies, registered attorneys and people acting under an order of the Court of Protection’.
The OPG is not likely to become involved in an investigation where the person giving the power of attorney has the ability ‘to make informed choices about the way they want to live and the risks they want to take’.
The document says that the OPG receives complaints about and records more instances of financial abuse than any other form of abuse, and lists a number of warning signs of financial abuse – such as the sale of a vulnerable person’s possessions, their being unable to pay bills, sudden changes in the use of their bank accounts and so on.
The document stresses that where abuse is reported, the OPG will investigate (‘We’ll take all suspicions or allegations of abuse seriously’) and, if warranted, even refer the abuse to the police for action. This will normally lead to the OPG demanding that the attorney (called a ‘deputy’ if appointed by the Court) provides a full report covering how the finances have been managed. The OPG can also arrange to supervise the future conduct of the attorney or deputy. Where warranted, a restitution order can be made.