Individuals seeking to hand over control of their financial arrangements and welfare to someone else are facing a three-month wait to register a power of attorney, it has emerged.
The wait faced by vulnerable people who are anxious to sort out their affairs has been criticised after a Scottish Government document revealed a system struggling to cope with increased demand.
With Scotland facing a dementia timebomb, the stress on officials dealing with power of attorney applications will increase and politicians have urged ministers to take action.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie unearthed the backlog when one of his North East Fife constituents, Dr Christopher Fraser, told him he was having to endure a 13-week wait to grant power of attorney to his wife Katherine.
The three-month delay is despite an official target to grant power of attorney within 30 working days.
Rennie wrote to the Scottish Government and received a reply from Community Safety minister Annabel Ewing, which revealed the Public Guardian had seen a 40 per cent increase in submissions for registration over the last two years.
Ewing continued: “To give some context, since January 2017 to August 2017, nearly 53,000 powers were submitted for registration. A small number of additional posts have been authorised and additional agency staff have been trained. The Office of the Public Guardian has also been able to fund weekend overtime hours for current employees, specifically to address the power of attorney backlog.”
Ewing apologised for the delay suffered by Rennie’s constituent.
She added: “As I hope you appreciate, the Public Guardian is well aware of the difficulties and continues to take action to improve registration times. I will continue to monitor closely the operation of the Office of the Public Guardian.”
Rennie said: “Waiting for 13 weeks to register a power of attorney must seek like an age for those waiting. This extended delay will compound the anxiety and stress felt by the applicant who is making the decision to hand over control of their own affairs to someone else.
“It’s traumatic enough without this long wait. The demand for a power of attorney is expected to increase in the years to come as the dementia time bomb hits. Around 90,000 people have dementia in Scotland and that is set to increase further in future years.
“The reply from the Minister is inadequate as a paltry increase in staff will fall well short of what is required. We need a recognition from the Government that this backlog is unacceptable and that it will take action to get it under control.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We take the issue of delays in registering powers of attorney very seriously and the Minister for Community Safety met the Public Guardian in the summer to discuss what strategies were in place to address the position.
“Since July there have been significant improvements in the turnaround time, with for example the percentage of electronic powers of attorney awaiting processing and exceeding the 30-day target reducing to 25 per cent compared to 65 per cent at the end of July. The Office of the Public Guardian has an expedited process in place for those applicants who have an urgent need for early registration”.
Dr Christopher Fraser,77, from St Andrews, a retired astronomy lecturer, described the power of attorney delay as a “scandal”.
Three and a half years ago, he was diagnosed with ideopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a degenerative disease of the lungs which has no cure.
“When I was told I had the disease the consultant told me that there was a life span of about four years, which I think was a rather pessimistic diagnosis. But I can feel it getting worse and I now require ambulatory oxygen. Recently my doctor tried to draw attention to the idea that I would be getting things organised in terms of the family. So I had a discussion about power of attorney with my wife and family.”
Through his solicitor he submitted his application to the Public Guardian’s Office for Registration to give power of attorney to his wife Katherine.
To his dismay, he was then told there was a 13-week waiting period, despite an official target of 30 working days.
“It’s a scandal. I got my passport renewed recently. I sent off the forms with £75 and got it back within the week. The fact that the target for powers of attorney is 30 working days – six weeks – smacks of complacency.
“To have to wait 13 weeks is even worse. It worries me that this office of the Scottish Government is unable to do things faster. My condition increases the likelihood of having a stroke, so I am anxious to sort this out. There are also people in a far worse predicament than me for whom a 13-week delay makes things very difficult indeed.”