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New Changes in Supervision of Deputies

In 2012, Parliament asked the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to commence a fundamental review of how deputies appointed by the Court of Protection to protect people lacking mental capacity are supervised.

The rationale for the review was due to a number of factors which included dissatisfaction with the standard of the OPG’s customer service, charges being levied by some professional deputies, the development of new digital technology opportunities and the continuing increase of the supervision caseload (cases having more than trebled from 15,935 to 49,006 since the implementation of OPG supervision in 2007).

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Following a wide consultation (including a public consultation in 2014) the OPG published has recently published its report to Parliament. The main finding of the review is that the OPG concedes that “the delivery model in existence since 2012 required re-focussing”. So much for that; what will it actually mean for those that lack capacity and their deputies?

We are told that implemented measures will include:

  • Better guidance from the OPG
  • Closer relations with the Court of Protection and Senior Courts Costs Office
  • Early contact with newly appointed deputies and greater support at the outset
  • New ‘digital deputyship’ and case management
  • Assurance visits for professional deputies
  • Targeted visits for lay deputies
  • Specialist supervision teams
  • Standards for professional and local authority deputies
  • Fuller reporting by deputies, including the introduction of annual deputyship plans, asset inventories and charging estimates for professionals
  • Dynamic risk assessment
  • Quick targeting of activity

More specifically, we are told we can expect to see the following changes.

Specialist Teams

One change that has already been implemented throughout 2013 and 2014 has been the creation of specialist teams responsible for supervision, designated by case type into four groups: Lay Deputies, Local Authority Deputies, Professional / Panel Deputies and Health and Welfare Cases.

Earlier Contact

New lay and professional deputies will be contacted shortly after their appointment by telephone from a designated contact manager at the OPG who will inform the new deputy of the OPG’s role and introduce him or herself. This early intervention is to help the new deputy to understand their role, powers and responsibilities and will be followed up after six months. Targeted visits will be considered for lay deputies.

Assurance visits for local authority and professional deputies

There will be new assurance visits for professional deputies and local authorities, with the focus on infrastructure and overall case management rather than on individual cases in isolation. There will also be dip sampling of a small number of cases, involving an OPG visitor seeing the client and the deputy in person. I myself had a visit last summer from a very nice man.

Standards for professional and local authority deputies

The OPG is working on setting down standards which will promote ‘good behaviour’ when professionals and local authorities are dealing with a deputyship matter. We are told that ‘essential’ responsibilities would include gaining insight into the client’s circumstances so that the deputy can make best interests decisions and securing client finances and assets. We are also told that the standards will include ways in which the good behaviour can be demonstrated, which sounds rather like the outcome-focused basis of the Solicitors Code of Conduct.

Continuous risk assessment

Under the new model, cases will be risk assessed at each stage of interaction between the deputy and the OPG and the appropriate next step decided between them. The OPG may rate cases Red, Amber or Green to indicate the timing of the OPG’s next engagement with the deputy.

Reporting

It is the OPG’s intention to maintain more frequent contact with deputies and to require formal submissions on a regular basis. To assist, it is proposed to develop a new digital tool that will enable deputies to record transactions as they happen and submit them at year end.

Plans, inventories and estimates

As well as the need for deputies to report, to help manage professional charges the OPG will wish to have sight of information on anticipated decision making in the coming year. This would include selling or purchasing property and investment of monies. The OPG will also require a new deputy to provide it with an inventory at the outset of the matter and would like professional deputies to provide an estimate of activity and anticipated charges for the following year.

Panel deputy diversification

The report states that the OPG wishes to include a wider diversification of organisation types on the panel of deputies of last resort. The response from non-legal sectors in previous panel recruitment processes has, not surprisingly, been limited. Accordingly, the report announces that there will be a new panel for 2015, and that the OPG is in the process of designing an ‘inclusive and rigorous recruitment process’.

The report was published in December 2014. By 5th January 2015, after a time of reflection over the holiday period, the OPG apparently felt that it had spent enough time on design and rolled out the new inclusive and rigorous recruitment process by placing advertisements, I am told, in the jobs section of the Law Society Gazette and The Guardian. Anyone hoping to be included in the process might now regret that they squandered last month working conscientiously on their deputyship files instead of looking around for a new job.

The Benefits

The OPG says that, as well as bringing benefits to the people whose affairs deputies manage, OPG staff will benefit from job satisfaction by implementing these new changes and sharing the OPG’s vision. The OPG knows this for certain because it used the formula D x V x M > R, where D=dissatisfaction with the status quo, V=vision of the future, M=method of change and R=resistance. So, that’s alright then.