The government is pressing ahead with promoting online lasting powers of attorney (LPA) despite the Law Society's warning that digitising the service is likely to increase the risk of fraud and abuse.
LPAs allow people to appoint a person or persons to take decisions for them if they lose mental capacity. Since July 2013 individuals have been able to make declarations online via the central government website www.gov.uk.
Alan Eccles (pictured), public guardian and chief executive of the Office of the Public Guardian, told the Law Society's private client conference that the move towards online LPAs arose from the 'demographics of the population'.
The UK's population is ageing, he said, and age is the commonest reason for losing mental capacity. The 'significant business challenge' is to keep up with the increasing number of applications.
'We had registered more than 250,000 new LPA instruments by the end of the 2013 tax year,' said Eccles.
'The estimate for this year was originally 330,000, but we have had to increase the figure to 380,000. The numbers are not expected to plateau until 2044. To avoid being drowned by paper, we are putting LPAs online for the first time, cutting costs and improving speed and accuracy.'
However Helen Clarke, former chair of the Law Society's wills & equity committee, disagreed with Eccles' vision.
'I am utterly opposed to digital LPAs,' she told delegates. 'Without the need for a witness or wet signature, there will be no forensic evidence that an elderly or vulnerable person had really entered into an LPA agreement with someone they trusted. There is a huge risk of being cheated.'
Online LPAs have strong backing from central government. The service is one of 25 'exemplars' picked by the Cabinet Office to lead a programme to cut the cost of public services by making them 'digital by default'.