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Elderly hit by delays in granting power of attorney

It has been found that people in Scotland who are looking to relinquish control of their financial arrangements, and give them to someone they trust to take care of, are being faced with a wait of three months to register power of attorney.

Even vulnerable people, who are desperate to deal with their finances, are being forced to wait this long after it was revealed in a Scottish Government document that the system is finding it difficult to cope with the increased demand on power of attorney.

With Scotland facing what has been labelled as a ‘dementia time bomb’, the people who are in charge of dealing with power of attorney requests are facing unprecedented pressure, and politicians have now called upon ministers to take action to help resolve this crisis.

Wait times ‘a scandal’

Willie Rennie, the leader of the Lib Dem party, found out about the lengthy waits that individuals are faced with after a constituent of his in North East Fife, Dr Christopher Fraser, let him know that he was currently in the middle of a 13-week wait to pass power of attorney to his wife, Katherine.

The three-month delay comes in spite of the fact that there is an official target, which aims to grant power of attorney within 30 working days of the application.

Rennie wrote to the Scottish Government, voicing his concerns about the delay. He received a reply from Annabel Ewing, the Community Safety minister, which revealed that in the last two years, the Public Guardian had seen an increase of 40% in submissions for registration.

The letter said: ‘To give some context, since January 2017 to August 2017, nearly 53,000 powers were submitted for registration. A small number of additional posts have been authorised and additional agency staff have been trained. The Office of the Public Guardian has also been able to fund weekend overtime hours for current employees, specifically to address the power of attorney backlog.’

After apologising for the delay which Dr Fraser had to ensure, she continued: ‘As I hope you appreciate, the Public Guardian is well aware of the difficulties and continues to take action to improve registration times. I will continue to monitor closely the operation of the Office of the Public Guardian.’

Mr Rennie spoke of his displeasure at the situation, saying: ‘Waiting for 13 weeks to register a power of attorney must seek like an age for those waiting. This extended delay will compound the anxiety and stress felt by the applicant who is making the decision to hand over control of their own affairs to someone else. It’s traumatic enough without this long wait. The demand for a power of attorney is expected to increase in the years to come as the dementia time bomb hits. Around 90,000 people have dementia in Scotland and that is set to increase further in future years. The reply from the Minister is inadequate as a paltry increase in staff will fall well short of what is required. We need a recognition from the Government that this backlog is unacceptable and that it will take action to get it under control.’

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government spoke about the issue raised by Mr Rennie. She was keen to point out that the government takes the delays in registering of attorney ‘very seriously’. She said that the Minister for Community Safety has met with the Public Guardian to speak about the strategies which have been put in position to address this issue.

She said that since the meeting, there has been a ‘significant’ improvement in the turnaround time for granting power of attorney. She cited the percentage of electronic powers of attorney which were waiting to be processed that exceeded the 30-day target.

The number after the meeting between the Minister for Community Safety and the Public Guardian had fallen to 25% from 65%, showing a clear improvement in the issue.

The spokeswoman added that the Public Guardian had a strategy in place to deal with those who were urgently looking for early registration.

Dr Christopher Fraser, 77, who is from St Andrews, is a retired astronomy lecturer. He has described the delay he has faced in granting his wife power of attorney as a ‘scandal’.

He was diagnosed three and a half year ago with a degenerative lung disease which has no cure.

He said that the consultant gave him a diagnosis of about 4 years, which he has called a ‘pessimistic diagnosis.’ However, he said that he is beginning to feel the effects of the condition, admitting that it is getting worse. He currently has to use ambulatory oxygen to help him breath.

He said it was his doctor who brought up the idea of power of attorney to him, saying that he would have to get things with his family organised before he passed. It was this, he said, that prompted him to have a discussion with his wife about power of attorney.

With the help of his solicitor, he submitted his power of attorney request to the Public Guardian’s Office for Registration, in order to pass power of attorney to his wife, Katherine.

He said it was at that point he was told that there was a 13-week waiting period, despite there being an official working target of 30 working days.

He said that he managed to get his passport renewed within a week, and that the length of wait he is having to endure ‘smacks of complacency’.

He said that there are people who are in a much worse predicament with him, and he is worried that the office of the Scottish Government is unable to process things any faster than it is currently doing.

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