Ministers and MPs are calling on banks to improve services offered to carers

Looking after financial affairs of vulnerable relatives must become easier, say MPs

By Jo Thornhill and Richard Dyson

Last updated at 9:49 AM on 12th February 2012

 

Ministers and MPs are calling on banks to improve services offered to carers and those operating bank accounts on behalf of elderly or disabled relatives.

This follows the year-long campaign of carer Annie Dransfield whose case, featured in Financial Mail last February, was the subject of a debate in Parliament this month. 

Her battle with Lloyds over access to her disabled son’s account (see below) highlighted the crucial roles played by banks in helping, or hindering, carers.

Wishes: John and Vanessa Ginty have set up a lasting power of attorney

In response to Annie’s story, a Treasury Minister promised Parliament that ‘we will monitor this issue in the context of improving access to banking and in the context of Government actions to support carers’.

It comes as the number of people caring for spouses, parents or other relatives nears six million. Many are having to manage finances on behalf of loved ones, triggering a rise in the number seeking guidance from banks.

 

Plan ahead: What you need to think about

The issues are complex for customers and banks, experts say. Customers must first ensure they have the right legal authorities in place. They then must arrange with the bank the appropriate type of account and access to manage it.

Where families can plan ahead, establishing a lasting power of attorney (LPA) is usually the best move. This must be set up while people have sufficient mental capacity to appoint the attorney themselves.

Depending on how LPAs are drawn up, attorneys can be granted powers to make decisions about the person’s care and treatment, as well as control of finances. Once drawn up, both parties can manage the account. Later on, if the original accountholder becomes incapacitated, the LPA must be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.

At this point, the bank is likely to prevent the original customer’s use of the account. LPAs cannot apply where the person being cared for is already incapacitated. Here, carers or others can be appointed as deputies through the Court of Protection. Legal advice is useful both to spell out options and ensure paperwork is done properly.

Setting up an LPA for a couple costs between about £400 and £700 plus £130 to register it at the OPG.

John and Vanessa Ginty began discussing LPAs after reading Press reports about a rise in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

John, 70, who was in the Royal Marines for 20 years before running a service station and later working in the funeral business, and Vanessa, 74, a retired curtain-maker, have a son, Sean, 37. Both have children from previous marriages, so they wanted everything about their affairs put on paper so the family would know their wishes should one die and the other become incapacitated.

The couple, from Cullompton, Devon, asked Will Management Services in Taunton, Somerset, which had written their wills, to set up property and finance LPAs.

John has appointed Sean as his attorney while Vanessa has appointed Paul, her eldest son from her first marriage. John says: ‘It seemed a good idea to appoint attorneys now rather than waiting for the worst to happen. The only drawback was the price, which at £690 for both of us, was quite steep.’

Bank staff are trained to recognise LPAs and their deputies, but problems can still arise as to how the accounts are operated.

The British Bankers’ Association says: ‘Banks have a responsibility to keep accounts secure as well as trying to offer convenient access. This is why customers and carers must talk to their bank about how they want to use their accounts as their circumstances change.’

‘There is still more to be done’

Annie Dransfield’s 33-year-old son suffers from cerebral palsy and she is his full-time carer. Annie, 56, has authority through the Court of Protection (see above) to manage his two bank accounts with Halifax, part of Lloyds. She did this over the internet, the most convenient way for her to bank.

Campaign: Annie Dransfield took on Lloyds over access to her disabled son’s account

But in February 2010 Lloyds withdrew online access for Annie, of Pudsey, West Yorkshire, saying, inexplicably, it was ‘illegal’ for her to operate her son’s account online. This was not true.

After a year-long battle, followed by a Financial Ombudsman Service decision in Annie’s favour and Financial Mail’s intervention last February, Lloyds finally restored her access.

The bank has never fully explained how the situation went so awry, but has apologised. Online access will not in future be denied to people in Annie’s situation.

Customer services director Martin Dodd says: ‘We’re putting in place this month a disability support help desk where specialists can offer advice to colleagues in branches and call centres to ensure we find solutions that fit this group of customers.’

Annie has been offered a meeting with Financial Secretary Mark Hoban as she continues her campaign to make banking better for carers. ‘It’s a positive outcome, but there is more to do,’ she says.
Read more: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money

 

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