Banks need to up their game when registering power of attorney, says Which?

21 February 2024, 00:04

A hand on a laptop
Power of attorney. Picture: PA

A raft of bank branch closures in recent years may be adding to delays, the consumer group said.

Nearly three in 10 people who have registered for power of attorney have faced difficulties trying to use their powers with banks, according to Which?

Research among more than 1,500 people who have held power of attorney found 29% described dealing with banks to manage the financial affairs of their donors as somewhat or very difficult. The figure for building societies was 23%.

A power of attorney allows a person, or “donor”, to appoint someone else, known as the “attorney”, to help manage their affairs.

It can be useful if, in the future, someone lacks mental capacity.

Which? said its research indicates it can take from a couple of minutes to up to 15 working days for some banks to register power of attorney documents.

Waiting for in-branch appointments can add delays to the process which has likely not been helped by bank branch closures, the consumer group said.

One person told researchers: “I have found it almost impossible to deal with the banks and this is despite me having a 40-year career in finance. My parents are on the other side of the country, my father is in a care home and the local bank branch has closed. The bank wants me to make a 200-mile round trip to the nearest branch to sign the relevant papers.”

The survey found that in about one in seven (15%) experiences, there was a reported lack of knowledge among staff across banks.

Which? said the Post Office also fared relatively poorly in its analysis, with 46% of customers in the research stating the registration process was easy and 29% rating the level of communication during the registration process as good.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We know the power of attorney process can be incredibly confusing and difficult for families, we have a responsibility to make this as easy as possible for them.

“We acknowledge that our power of attorney processes can be clearer on how to make, register or end a power of attorney.

“We will be working hard in 2024 to better help and support our customers, looking across all our processes and journeys to help identify improvements to better support them in the future.”

Several building societies fared particularly positively in the Which? research.

Seven in 10 Coventry Building Society customers said the registration process was easy and the same percentage of customers positively rated the level of communication during the registration process.

Two-thirds (67%) of Nationwide customers and around six in 10 (63%) of Yorkshire Building Society customers said the registration process was easy.

Which? said it wants consumers to be able to easily contact companies without unnecessary barriers and in the way that suits them best – whether that is speaking to a person or a chatbot.

Sam Richardson, deputy editor of Which? Money, said: “Taking on power of attorney for a loved one is a big and often stressful responsibility – but our research has found that it’s been made needlessly more difficult when it comes to registering and using that power with banks.

“While some firms fared well in our survey, others leave a lot to be desired – and the raft of bank branch closures in recent years may well be adding to delays people are facing.

“Firms need to up their game to ensure those registering power of attorney can do so in a timely and efficient manner.”

The survey of more than 1,500 people was taken from research among the general public, collected by Dynata, as well as research among Which? members. Roughly half of people surveyed were members of the wider general public and half were from the Which? members panel.

Those included in the research, carried out in December 2023, were people who have held power of attorney to manage the financial affairs of another person and dealt with organisations on behalf of the donor in the past three years.

Banks and building societies with fewer than 30 relevant responses in the sample were not included.

Michael Conville, chief customer officer at Newcastle Building Society, said: “The need to register power of attorney is one of those times where access to face-to-face support, for example via a branch, is so important and our customers tell us time and again that they’re worried about the number of banks leaving town and how much they value being able to pop into a local branch when they need to.”

By Press Association