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Digital power of attorney goes back to drawing board



One of the government's exemplar "digital by default" projects looks set to be stuck at the halfway digital stage, officials admitted today. The Ministry of Justice announced that its controversial plan to create an all-online process for applying for lasting powers of attorney (LPA) had gone back to the drawing board in the face of widespread opposition from lawyers and organisations representing elderly and disabled people.

Lasting power of attorney was one of the first of the 25 exemplar digital by default projects to be classified as "live". it handles some 300,000 applications a year to the Office of the Public Guardian, which administers the scheme. To comply with the law, however, the current web system requires people registering powers of attorney to print off forms and sign them physically.

In a consultation opened in October last year, the Ministry of Justice asked for opinions on putting the procedure fully online, with applicants signing documents digitally. A formal response published today admits that a fully digital process will not be possible until concerns about security and usability have been met.

The response notes that the majority of respondents "did not agree" with an all-digital system, saying it gave greater scope for fraud and financial abuse, and would not be suitable for elderly clients.

While the ministry is "confident that a fully digital LPA will provide benefits" it says "a number of points" need to be resolved first. The MoJ said it would "build on the feedback received and work with key stakeholders to refine our proposal for a fully digital LPA and consult with the public when we have a fuller picture of how the digital tool will operate".

Instead, the Office of the Public Guardian will publish redesigned LPA application forms next year, the justice minister, Simon Hughes, announced. "LPAs give people the peace of mind of knowing that if they ever lose capacity, the important decisions about their life can be taken by someone they have chosen and can trust. We are keeping the right safeguards in place to protect the public at what can be a vulnerable time in a person's life."

The announcement is the second concession this year that major obstacles remain to all-digital public services. In May this year HM Revenue & Customs agreed to relax its plan to requiring all businesses to file VAT returns online, saying that businesses for which e-filing is not 'reasonably practical' may continue to use the phone or file paper returns.

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