UK Politics

Mentally impaired people 'exploited by court-appointed deputies'

Duncan Hames
Duncan Hames is calling for a shake-up of the court-appointed deputies system

Action is needed to prevent vulnerable people being ripped-off by those appointed by the courts to manage their finances, MPs have been told.

Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames said a constituent of his, who suffered head injuries in a car crash, was left nearly "penniless".

The man had paid out a third of his compensation in fees to solicitors appointed as his "deputy", said the MP.

The government said it was taking steps to improve the system.

Deputies are appointed by the Court of Protection, which was set up by the 2005 Mental Capacity Act to protect the financial interests of mentally incapable people.

They are meant to make financial decisions on behalf of people judged incapable of doing so themselves.

Mr Hames, MP for Chippenham in Wiltshire, and parliamentary aide to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, claimed the solicitors appointed to look after the financial affairs of his constituent, who he referred to as "Mr Able", had not acted in his best interests.

'Vulnerable adult'

"A vulnerable man has been left more or less penniless by the inaction of those meant to protect him - and the regulatory reaction has been tacit indifference," he told MPs in Westminster Hall.

"Over a third of the personal capital Mr Able possessed at the time control of his finances passed to the court-appointed deputy solicitors was subsequently paid to those solicitors, as fees for the job of controlling his expenditure, and yet they did not even ensure he received appropriate benefits when he was unemployed," he added.

Wiltshire Council now acted as deputy to "Mr Able", who was awarded a large sum in compensation 13 years ago after suffering head injuries in a road accident which left him with learning difficulties, said Mr Hames, and he was now receiving the support he needs.

"If a council can achieve this, then surely, given the expense he was being forced to go to, his court appointed deputy should have been able to?," he asked MPs.

Mr Hames said he had "exhausted every available regulatory channel" in an attempt to get justice for "Mr Able" - including the Office of the Public Guardian, the body which oversees deputies and which had concluded there were no failings in the way his case had been handled.

He said "Mr Able" may be in a minority - but he was not alone in being a "vulnerable adult" who had been failed by the system.

He said he had handed a transcript of a 2010 investigation by BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme, which had highlighted a similar case, to Justice Minister Helen Grant.

'Proper safeguards'

Mrs Grant told Mr Hames she would take his concerns on board, telling MPs a new public guardian, Alan Eccles, had launched "a fundamental review of the way supervision of deputies is currently carried out".

The Conservative minister said the aim was to "ensure proper safeguards are in place to protect people who lack capacity and to ensure decisions are made in their best interests".

More attention would be focused on cases "that require most support or where there are potential concerns," she added, with deputies who are "operating effectively" allowed to do their job with "minimal intervention".

There would be more support for new deputies, and more supervision for "lay people acting on behalf of the family", compared to legal professionals, public authorities and other "professionals".

There is likely to be a growing number of deputies in the future, as the population ages, she told MPs and it was important to encourage people to "plan for the future by making lasting powers of attorney, to avoid the need... for a deputy to be appointed at all."

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