The Office of the Public Guardian, which is charged with protecting the rights of people who lack capacity, has struggled to cope with its workload during its first year of operation.
In its first annual report, the OPG said it had experienced “significant capacity issues” since it was established in October 2007 under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The OPG’s role is to regulate and monitor people who make decisions on behalf of others on financial, health and welfare issues. These include people given enduring or lasting powers of attorney (EPA/LPA) by others who fear they may lose capacity in future, and deputies appointed by the Court of Protection to perform the same role for people who already lack capacity.
Since October 2007, people have not been able to make EPAs – which only cover financial issues – and must make LPAs, which also cover health and welfare decisions. However, the OPG must continue to register EPAs when donors lose capacity, as well as LPAs, which are registered at the time of application.
It had estimated it would have to register 20,000 EPAs and 10,000 LPAs in its first year, but the annual report said current volumes were double that level, with LPAs making up 60% of the workload.
This meant that the agency has failed to hit targets on processing applications. In June 2008, for example, it was taking 13 weeks against the agency’s nine-week target to register applications with no errors or ommissions.
The report cited the high media profile around LPAs when the Mental Capacity Act came into force, and legal advertisements encouraging people to make EPAs before the October 2007 deadline, for the influx of applications.
Richard Brook, who stepped down last month as the first Public Guardian and chief executive of the OPG, said: “That has been a personal disappointment to me, and I want to appologise personally to those customers who have had less than a positive experience of the services in the first six months of the OPG’s life.”
He added: “We are reducing the delays significantly and I believe once this has occured the agency will be in a strong position to move ahead into the future.”
Mental Capacity Act guide