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Solicitors could be forced down digital route on LPAs

By Michael Cross >>

Solicitors registering lasting powers of attorney could be compelled to complete the process through the government’s digital channel under proposals to reform the LPA process published yesterday. Compulsion is among the options suggested to reduce the 6% error rate in applications from solicitors, as well as to save the cost of handling under paper. 

The proposals for solicitors appear at the end of a document in which the Ministry of Justice and Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) propose comprehensive changes to bring the system, introduced under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, into the digital age. Among the questions asked are whether remote witnessing is desirable and whether the OPG’s remit should be expanded to give it the legal authority to carry out checks such as verifying identities. 

Views are also invited on ‘how people can object to an LPA and the process itself, as well as when is the right time for an objection to be made’.

Justice minister Alex Chalk MP said the proposed changes ‘will make the service quicker to use, easy to access and even more secure from fraud’. 

On the question of solicitor applications, the document proposes ways to increase the low uptake of the digital tool. This would reduce the 6% error rate in applications from solicitors as well as their ‘reliance on postal services and the time and costs of sending on vast amounts of paper’. 

The document admits that the current digital channel ‘is limited in its ability to meet the needs of most solicitors’ firms’. This is partly because it is not integrated with law firms’ own document management systems. Its preferred solution would be a ‘solicitor portal’ interfaced directly with systems supplied by legal stationers. ‘The system would appear seamless to them, with access to the benefits of the new service, potentially including automated checks, instant submission to the OPG, automatic updates when changes are made and the ability to track the status of multiple LPAs at once.’

However it says if this is not possible, or if it fails to encourage take-up, ‘an alternative approach would be to legislate to require solicitors to use the digital channel for certain aspects of the registration process’.

A final approach would be to require solicitors to use all the elements of the digital channel after a certain date. ‘This would help OPG to become sustainable and create consistency in how the service is provided but would be extremely restrictive on how solicitors provide service to their clients,’ the document states. 

Specialist practitioners urged the government to move with caution on the reforms. Tim Snaith, partner in the private client team at Winckworth Sherwood, said: ‘The world has moved forward significantly in terms of technology since 2007, and this may present a solution to the above issues. However, this has to be balanced against the scope for abuse. There is no doubt the system could be greatly improved but care must be taken.’

The consultation closes on 13 September.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)