The voice of professional deputies

Established in 2019, the Professional Deputies Forum (PDF) was founded by practitioners to provide a forum for professional deputies to share news, views, and best practice on matters concerning vulnerable adults who lack or have limited mental capacity. We spoke to Martin Terrell, Chair at the PDF, to share his views on the PDF’s work and the challenges faced by deputies.

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How did the PDF come about?

The world of professional deputies has evolved considerably over the last twenty years, from an occasional adjunct to other areas of work to a distinct area of practice. An ageing population and medical advances mean an increasing number of cases requiring legal support for longer periods of time. There were solicitors who entirely focused on this work, yet there was no organisation geared towards representing and supporting them. Professional deputies would meet over the years and agree that there was a need for this, but being busy in that role, nothing happened until the end of 2018 when Russell Caller persuaded me and Holly Chantler that action was better than talking. We were very fortunate in having the support and network of Clarion Law’s costs team who invited a group of deputies to their offices in Leeds, which showed widespread support for the idea and creating an initial membership to drive the creation of an administrative structure and website. Since then, the PDF has grown to over 300 members who between them manage the affairs of several thousand vulnerable children and adults.

The PDF was instrumental in the revision of deputy’s hourly rates in the PLK and Others case.  What is the next focus of the PDF?

The PDF has always aimed to make a case for deputyship work being properly remunerated. The rates allowed had not changed in ten years, and while there is never much sympathy for solicitors on the subject of costs, we were finding that many firms were increasingly disinterested in deputyship work. This would have serious implications for practitioners and clients. The PLK decision and subsequent increase in the guideline rates have helped, but there will always be a delay between expenditure going up and fees being increased, especially as inflation increases. The PDF has to keep this under review, while supporting members on the ground, sharing knowledge and practical ideas. In recent weeks we have engaged with the court to look at ways of improving applications and applying for orders that will allow for bills to be paid on account.

Why should a professional deputy join the forum?

"Apart from promoting the interests of deputies, the PDF is as the name suggests, a forum, where we exchange ideas, problems and solutions. There is a real sense of community, where we share the same issues."

I cannot imagine why a professional deputy would not join the PDF. It’s the only organisation that deals exclusively with this area of practice. I have been really impressed how much willingness there is to share knowledge and experience. Apart from promoting the interests of deputies, the PDF is as the name suggests, a forum, where we exchange ideas, problems and solutions. There is a real sense of community, where we share the same issues. I have been really impressed how much willingness there is to share knowledge and experience. 

In your view, should a specific discretionary investment management clause be included in a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)?

It has long been a bugbear for practitioners that where LPAs are concerned, some banks and financial institutions would not allow an attorney to enter into a discretionary investment mandate unless this was expressly authorised in the LPA. This was on the basis that this was a delegated authority which an attorney could not confer, despite this being standard investment practice. The Office of the Public Guardian OPG has advised that an LPA should cover this expressly.In the light of advice published by Caroline Bielanska, to the effect that this is unnecessary, the OPG has agreed to revise its guidance. This will however remain guidance and while persuasive, most practitioners will take a cautious approach and continue to include appropriate wording, if only to avoid uncertainty on the issue.

Both the Court of Protection and OPG are experiencing delays in dealing with queries and applications.  What tips would you give to both professional and lay deputies to navigate the system?

We are to a large extent stuck with the system provided, it is not as if we can shop around for a better court somewhere else.We’ll raise awareness and work with and challenge public bodies. Unless and until more resources and better systems materialise, we have to work harder, to be smarter in our approach. We can do better with gathering evidence, making applications clear and accurate, not giving any excuse for delay. We can apply for interim orders to investigate and report or collect benefits. We can manage expectations and work with relatives, care providers and local authorities. An example of this in practice is persuading the court to make orders allowing interim bills in applications. This doesn’t need any extra resources but will make a difference to managing the financial impact of long running cases.

How do you think the role of the PDF will change in the coming years?

The role of the PDF will continue to develop as the number of professional deputyships increases. The volume and complexity of cases will keep growing.The PDF will have to keep abreast of this and manage the collective voice (the external view) and support and training for members (the internal view). We need to get the balance right. Over time there will be more we can do to provide training and development in our area. We have new recruits, especially junior lawyers and paralegals who need practical and affordable training to meet the demands of their work. This covers not just legal knowledge but practical issues that deputies have to face: vulnerable clients, family conflict, property issues, employment and financial management. Professional deputyship work needs new blood if it’s to survive and the PDF will have an indispensable role in providing this.

Are there any plans to include lay deputy representation in the forum?

The PDF was established by and for solicitor deputies, and is geared towards the needs and interests of those working mainly in one specialist area of law. Most lay deputies will be acting individually in a single case, usually for a family member.We will work with, and have the best relations, with other deputies, whether lay deputies and local authorities, as we have with other organisations and businesses. Good professional deputies will provide a better service to those who need it and be better people for others to work with.

If you would like to find out more about the PDF and how to become a member, please visit their website.

For further information view Rathbones’ specialist personal injury and Court of Protection services.