A man, whose late mother was swindled out of a substantial sum of money, has met with the Attorney General to discuss the possibility of bolstering the protection afforded to those who have lost mental capacity.
Barbara Lewis had entrusted her close friend, Margaret Rigby, with Power of Attorney. However, after Mrs Lewis developed dementia, her friend helped herself to £57,000 from the pensioner’s bank account.
Mrs Rigby and two of her relations were subsequently given suspended sentences last year and have been ordered to repay around a quarter of the money – having splashed out on cars, holidays and other luxuries.
Following the offences, Mrs Lewis’ son Nick has launched a campaign calling for a change in the law. He is advocating that greater safeguards should be put in place to protect the assets of those who have handed control of their finances to someone else.
Travelling to Westminster, he met his own MP and Attorney General, Jeremy Wright and Justice Minister Caroline Dineage. During talks, he raised concerns about alleged failings in the current system and argued the case for reform.
Mr Lewis contends that those who receive Power of Attorney should face far stricter supervision, including a requirement to present accounts, receipts and other relevant documents at regular intervals.
He believes that these checks would make it considerably more difficult for people to misappropriate funds.
“I am seeking to ensure that what happened to my mum doesn’t happen to others,” said Mr Lewis. “There need to be measures to prevent this from happening again, not just guidelines which are open to abuse.”
Lee McClellan, a partner with Palmers’ private client team who specialises in Power of Attorney matters, said: “Unfortunate cases such as these underline the need for safeguards to be put in place to ensure that Attorneys do not abuse the powers given to them.
“Thankfully, in the vast majority of situations, Powers of Attorney are used responsibly to ensure that the welfare and finances of an individual are properly looked after.
“Careful consideration is needed when deciding who will step in to assist, what circumstances will trigger their powers and what restrictions or conditions should be imposed upon them.
“The taking of professional advice and the naming of up to five people to be notified of the power’s existence are two sensible safeguards to reduce the risk of abuse. It is unfortunate that, notwithstanding an increasing number of cases of reported abuse, these safeguards have been downplayed by many in recent years (the Government and Office of the Public Guardian included) and that far greater emphasis appears to have been placed on making it easier for such documents to be created.”