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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