I’ve no doubt that it was well intentioned people who supported the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and its provisions (in England and Wales) for people to be able to lay down instructions on what should happen if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves.
Having a clear legal framework in which people can specify who can make decisions about their health, welfare and financial affairs is a good idea. It needs to balance letting people decide what they want to happen and protecting vulnerable people against others misusing powers over their lives. Some bureaucracy and paperwork is therefore inevitable – and more than that, welcome.
And yet, look at the paperwork involved:
This is what I was sent after I contacted the Office of the Public Guardian asking for the necessary forms. In fairness to them, their website was easy to find (even though I didn’t know the name of the organisation) and they responded promptly to my query. Some serious effort has been put in to making the documentation light on jargon and easy to understand sentence by sentence.
But I’ve ended up with a huge bundle of paperwork, including two guidance booklets that firmly inform me I must read them first before proceeding. That’s 88 pages for starters. Then there are the myriad forms, not to mention the financial charges involved which look like they would come to £240 (gulp).
Even for me – in full time work and lover of paperwork – this is a pretty daunting combination. You can make life easier, but more expensive, by using a lawyer to sort out the paperwork.
The reality is that this means for most people this is just not a process that is going to be used. So whilst the intention of those who legislated in 2005 and those who are now implementing the law are well placed, we’ve ended up with a system that serves a small number of articulate middle class people with several hundred pounds to spare.
Giving people the right to decide what happens to themselves and who can take decisions on their behalf shouldn’t be restricted to such a narrow minority.
Here’s a simplification I’d offer for starters: the two different Lasting Power of Attorney Forms – one for property/financial affairs and one for health/welfare are largely the same. So why not have one omnibus form that allows you legally to do both processes but avoids the large amount of duplication?
But whether you agree with that or not, how can it be right that the ability to have such control over what happens to you is so heavily restricted to those with the time, money, confidence and understanding to triumph over such a complicated process? It’s almost always the most vulnerable – those most in need of systems such as this – who are also those least able to make use of them.
UPDATE (written half way through the paperwork): Oh, and you might want to fix the typo on page 15 of the property/financial affairs guidance booklet and also make clear why (uniquely) the number of continuation sheets C don’t have to be tallied up on the front of the health/welfare form (or is there a box missing?).