I have power of attorney – now I can manage my mum’s affairs. Except that no one tells you that’s where your problems begin.
An elderly loved one is losing their grip on reality and you decide the time has come to manage their affairs using the power of attorney. What could be simpler?
How about assembling a nuclear submarine using nothing more than a knife and fork. Or swimming the Pacific with a bag of cement strapped to your back. Or … OK, you get the drift. If you are one of the unfortunates who have entered the twilight world that comes with power of attorney you will undoubtedly be able to come up with plenty of analogies of your own.
I now have enduring power of attorney for my mother, held jointly and severally with my brother. My old mum’s an intelligent woman, and while she was still compos mentis she wanted to initiate the process that would enable her sons to deal with her affairs if, and when, she became too confused to do so herself. Sadly, that day has arrived. So, through the solicitor who drew up the documentation when she had the foresight to set things in train, we applied to the Court of Protection and were granted power of attorney.
It’s the problems you encounter when you try to use it that no one tells you about. Like the bank that wouldn’t issue me with a bank card, thus preventing me withdrawing cash on my mum’s behalf using its ATMs; or the building society that wouldn’t recognise that I had power of attorney because my brother failed to complete his part of the form to its satisfaction; or the online interest rates that are now unavailable to my mother because the brains behind internet accounts have yet to fathom out a way to register a legal document.
Guardian consumer agony uncle Mark King suggests that the financial giants can’t be arsed to tackle the problems, simply because there aren’t enough of us to be a sufficient nuisance when we complain.
Certainly, that mighty watchdog the Financial Services Authority was none too bothered when I asked if it issued guidelines to companies about how best to deal with power of attorney issues. Not its remit, it seems.
Add to that the millions of pounds belonging to the elderly accruing next to nothing in rubbish savings accounts, which the banks use to make handsome profits by investing it elsewhere at considerably higher rates of interest, and you have a powerful formula for sticking with the status quo.
The bank that wouldn’t give me a cash card was, you’ve guessed it, Santander. Until I registered my power of attorney with the bank, I was able to extract cash from the hole in the wall using my mum’s card. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to but, hey, no one’s perfect. That all stopped the moment I tried to do things properly. Not only was mum’s card cancelled forthwith, I couldn’t have one either.
I can, in theory, walk into any branch of Santander with suitable identification and withdraw money from her current account, but I can’t have the vital piece of plastic that allows me to use the ATM outside. Cash machines, of course, are open all the time. Santander branches are not.
As you can imagine, there were a number of phone calls between me and Santander in an effort to get it to change its mind. When I drew a blank I called on the services of Mark – yet even he couldn’t do the trick.
Santander was hazy about why I couldn’t have a card. Its main concern seemed to be that, as I hold power of attorney with my brother, he would be entitled to a card, too; so if there was a fraudulent withdrawal it wouldn’t know who to blame. The bank was very sorry if this caused me problems, and it was going away to review its policy. Yeah, sure.
Nationwide didn’t cover itself in glory, either. In short, my brother and I were required to fill in the same form for registration purposes. I did my bit properly, but my brother didn’t. The upshot was that the entire form was left to gather dust in Nationwide HQ, and I only discovered I didn’t have power of attorney when I rang to ask why I hadn’t received acknowledgement of the form we’d sent in some weeks previously.
I was irked that I hadn’t been contacted to say there was a problem (I’m a Nationwide account holder so they know where I live) but what really caused the red mist to descend was being told that because of the confusion caused by my brother’s entry, mine was invalidated as well. I know Cane and Abel had their problems, but at least they didn’t have to deal with bureaucracy on that scale.
Well done to the supervisor who called me back – without your intervention Nationwide would now be missing not one, but two customers. But not so well done to the numpty who then tried to contact me via my mother’s address – she doesn’t understand letters about power of attorney any more; that’s why I have been granted … well, you fill in the rest.
Then there’s the Northern Rock Isa paying a fabulous 3.05%, which turned out to be “fabulous” for everyone except those with enduring power of attorney. And I’m none too pleased with a crowd called CPP, which had sold my mother a useless card protection policy I can only cancel by sending them a notorised copy of my power of attorney. I could go on.
No doubt you have encountered similar difficulties. But, my friends, the time has come to fight back.
With your help it can only be a matter of time before that automated phone message is altered to meet our needs. “If you are inquiring about a current account, press one; if you are inquiring about a savings account, press two; if you are being denied your basic human rights because you have enduring power of attorney, press three.”
Trust me – together we can make this happen. As John Lennon would have sung if only he’d thought of it first: “Power to the people with power of attorney”.
Originally published at The Guardian