The Office of the Public Guardian has recently published some new guidance and advice for deputies and attorneys about how they should use their powers during the coronavirus outbreak. This is a particularly difficult area, because often attorneys and deputies will be acting on behalf of older people, many of whom will have accompanying medical conditions which will make it particularly important that they are shielded from others who could carry the virus. Care homes in particular appear to be struggling with outbreaks, and it is essential to ensure that residents and staff are protected as far as possible from outside visitors who may inadvertently bring the virus with them.
In summary, the role and responsibilities of attorneys under a Lasting Power of Attorney and deputies under a Deputyship Order remain the same as always, although they must now follow the government guidance on social distancing, self-isolation and shielding when carrying out their duties. Where possible, an attorney or deputy should avoid physically visiting the person they represent during this time, exactly as we have all been asked to avoid contact with anyone else outside our immediate families, in order to slow the spread of the virus. However, if an urgent decision needs to be made by the attorney or deputy and the person’s input is required, the attorney or deputy should consider telephoning them, making a video call or having a care worker pass on the necessary information instead of visiting in person.
An attorney or deputy may not delegate their power to make decisions to anyone else, even if they are self-isolating or shielding, although they may make a decision and ask someone else to carry it out on their behalf. They have the option of stepping down from office permanently if they do not feel that they can continue to carry out their duties adequately during this period, but they may not give up their role temporarily. Stepping down could have the unfortunate effect of leaving the person without a trusted representative to give them the support that they need, however, and should not be considered lightly.
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