Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Secret court takes four months to give elderly their own money, and then charges £400 for the privilege

By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 3:06 AM on 08th November 2009

The secretive and controversial Court of Protection – which controls the finances of some of Britain’s most vulnerable people – is taking an average of four months to release people’s cash, while charging them £400 to apply for it.

The latest shocking revelation about the court comes in the wake of a Mail on Sunday investigation into widespread concerns about the way it is run.

The court, which has attracted nearly 4,000 complaints from the public in the past two years, oversees money belonging to people with dementia or other forms of mental incapacity.

Call for inquiry: Jack Straw has ordered a judge to review the workings of the court

Call for inquiry: Jack Straw has ordered a judge to review the workings of the court

It holds a £2.7billion fund at the Bank of England, in an account paying just half a per cent interest. It costs people an average of £400

to have their applications for access to the money processed.

Asked how long it could take to release funds – which relatives might need to pay for care fees or bills – officials said it ‘only’ took 16 weeks on average. That is inside the court’s 21-week target for ruling on most issues concerning the management of the finance and welfare of people unable to make their own decisions.

Justice Secretary has ordered a judge to review the workings of the court after The Mail on Sunday revealed the huge problems faced by the families of those put under its protection. People complained to us about how:

  • Court officials paid the proceeds of a house sale into the wrong account.
  • l A relative was accused of abusive behaviour towards a court official on a visit to his home – even though the official had never visited him.
  • l One claimant was charged £4,100 in legal fees to withdraw £5,800 of their own money.
  • l Elderly clients died before requests for cash were agreed.

Last night, a spokeswoman for the court said that since new laws came into force in 2007, the new Court of Protection had generally allowed ‘deputies’ – those permitted to access a person’s money on their behalf – more freedom than in the past.

She said: ‘Most deputies have been able to keep money in any account they choose and access it with no restrictions.

‘This is a great improvement on the previous system, when greater restrictions were in place.’

She added: ‘The Court of Protection receives approximately 1,800 applications a month – this includes applications to appoint a deputy or to make decisions in relation to the property, affairs, health care and personal welfare of adults and children who lack capacity.

‘Our published standard for all applications is 21 weeks, which includes time for notification and response, and we are currently processing all applications within an average of 16 weeks.’

The spokeswoman added that recent applications to move funds out of the court’s account at the Bank of England have usually been much quicker.

‘We have had around 190 such applications since August and they are taking, on average, about seven weeks to process. There is no backlog of applications to take funds.’