The Office of the Public Guardian should be a wonderful public service, helping people have more control over how their lives are sorted out if they get to a point where they can’t make decisions for themselves. That’s the theory anyway. The reality is somewhat different, as I’ve chronicled with their long and complicated paperwork:
It is voluminous with people being told to read 88 pages of guidance booklets before even starting on filling in the paperwork for Lasting Powers of Attorney:
Once the paperwork is completed, there is a charge of £240 to register it (though with discounts available to some).
The paperwork itself fails to impress with several minor errors and inconsistencies, but more fundamentally, much of the paperwork is duplicated, because the law lays down two separate processes (one for health and welfare issues and one for financial issues). Rather than imaginatively address the problem – such as by producing one combined booklet which, for legal purposes, counts as two, or by public lobbying to amend the law – the Office of the Public Guardian seems to sit by content with such duplication.
More troubling is that the Office of the Public Guardian gets almost no meaningful scrutiny. As I previously wrote:
Looking through Hansard, the Office of the Public Guardian rarely features, except as part of wider questions about how much government bodies spent on Christmas decorations and the like. The specific role of the OPG goes almost undebated, and I have not been able to find any debate on either its performance indicators or annual reports. There is a similar lack of coverage from political parties more widely and from thinks tanks and the media. Neither the Conservative nor Liberal Democrat websites return any hits for “Office of the Public Guardian” for example.
Some MPs show a brief interest in its workings. The number of applications quoted above comes from a written question tabled by Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow and Conservative Dominic Grieve tabled a question which unearthed a disturbing pattern of a steadily growing volume of complaints about the Office of the Public Guardian. Conservative MP Ian Taylor too has put some pressure on with a written question about the time taken to process paperwork as have Andrew Selous (Conservative) and Annette Brooke (Lib Dem), while Tom Brake (Lib Dem) asked about staffing levels. These examples and a smattering of others are, however, one offs. A brief piece of interest from an MP and then silence in Hansard resumes.
There is now some good news however. The BBC has turned its eye to the OPG’s performance in a Radio 4 documentary, ‘Court of Protection cost me £50,000‘, and the new Liberal Democrat MP Duncan Hames has also been taking an interest in its work as has his colleague Mark Williams.
Less promising is the explanation that the Office of the Public Guardian has given me as to why there is so much duplication in its process. The answer? Because that’s the way the law is. In a narrow sense, that is a fair answer. But it’s also a pretty insipid verdict on the Office of Public Guardian’s management if they know they run a system with needless duplication yet aren’t pressing for the law to be changed so that they can put an end to that waste.