The dangers of being appointed

Neil Bateman on the pitfalls of appointeeship and why a
corporate solution is best.

I have been asked to become the appointee for a service user
with a learning difficulty so that he can receive his benefits
regularly. Should I do this?

This is one of the dilemmas when one really needs to phone a
friend. An appointeeship is a significant responsibility which can
put you in a difficult position as you become personally liable for
handling your customer’s benefits and making sure that the
money gets spent properly. You may also be personally liable for
any overpayments of benefit. So the answer is, never agree to be an

An appointeeship is made by the Benefits Agency when someone
does not have the intellectual ability to manage their own
finances. There are questions of judgement here, but oddly enough,
there is no formal right of appeal.

The legislation is also clear that it is a matter of someone
applying to be an appointee, rather than a social security official
deciding that benefit can’t be paid because someone does not
have capacity. If an appointee can’t be found, then benefit
must still be paid to the claimant. Similarly, benefit claims
should not be held up while an appointee is looked for.

There are alternatives to an appointeeship. For example, someone
can become an agent. An agent basically collects the benefits on
the claimant’s behalf – the benefit equivalent of running
errands. There are no other legal obligation on an agent.

An appointee, on the other hand, has to not only complete
benefit claim forms, and make sure the claimant receives the money
or pays their bills, but also has to notify the Benefits Agency of
any changes in circumstances. This also means that the benefit does
not belong to the appointee – a common misunderstanding.

It is not unknown for some claimants – usually people with a
learning difficulty or mental health problem, to have an appointee
when one is not needed. The Benefits Agency should monitor these
and the appointee can resign, but there seems to be no legislation
enabling the claimant to dismiss their appointee. Similarly, there
seems to be no system of enabling a person to be weaned off an
appointeeship other than through the social work process.

If you do have a situation where someone really does need an
appointee and there is no one willing and able to take this on, a
corporate body can become the appointee. This protects staff and
service user alike as well as allowing for flexibility to manage
staff leave or sickness.

It is perfectly possible for a local authority to be the
appointee but for there to be named agents who sign the paperwork
and see to the day-to-day arrangements.

In residential care homes, it has been Benefits Agency policy
since the 1980s that they inform registration officers if any home
owner or manager becomes an appointee (indeed the guidance says
this should generally be avoided). This may well not have been
happening universally and it is a vital safeguard against financial
abuse as the registration staff can inspect residents’
financial records. Social workers need to find out what the
practice is in their area.

If the appointee has misspent the claimant’s money, oddly
enough this is not fraud under the social security legislation.
However, offences that constitute theft may have been committed – a
police matter.

So one solution for service users who really do need appointees
and who have no one to do this, is for a corporate body to be the
appointee, with proper safeguards and accountability and never for
an employee to be an appointee.

If nothing else, it protects you from having to repay
overpayments out of your own pocket.

Finally, a gap in the law means that a separate appointeeship is
needed for housing and council tax benefits. One is not



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