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I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Power of Attorney without tears? Don`t bank on it.

This is a note to The Banks. All of them, really. And to you, in case you find yourself in the same position.

It`s about people who are going through the Power of Attorney procedure; where you take over the financial affairs of a loved one.

In our case, my sister and I have been granted POA for our father, who has advanced Alzheimer`s. This is something he set in place several years ago, `just in case`. On a day to day basis, his partner Phyllis manages the household budget, and most bills are paid by direct debit or standing order.

In recent months, Dad`s condition has deteriorated. He`s being cared for in his own home. He can`t leave his bed. Phyllis is with him 24/7, and there`s additional, twice daily help from a visiting carer. He finds it hard to hold any kind of conversation, or recognise even his nearest and dearest.

If you know someone with dementia, you`ll know it`s a gradual process; like getting your heart broken in slow motion, really.

There`s been-- understandably--a great deal of paperwork to sort out before POA kicks in. And we`ve been guided throughout by our family solicitor.

What saddened and surprised us, though, was how much banks assumed we knew about what would happen to Dad`s current and savings accounts while this procedure was being finalised.

With at least one of the organisations in question, Dad`s accounts were frozen without any warning. This was, apparently, `in line with Bank procedure`. But what it meant in practical terms was Phyllis having a debit card declined without the slightest hint that this would happen, while she stood at a supermarket checkout with a trolley load of food. Embarrassing and distressing. And you can`t get out much, when you`re a carer.

Many telephone calls and emails followed. There were very few compassionate, human responses along the way. I encountered a few automatons. One told me that he couldn`t even continue the conversation because Phyllis had effectively been `committing fraud` . (She always used the card with Dad`s full consent before he lost mental capacity; and continued to do so,with the consent of my sister and I, when Dad`s health deteriorated. He can`t get out of bed, see? ) I lend my daughters my card sometimes, to pop down the Co-op for a pint of milk and something for tea. Are we fraudsters? I don`t think so.

I filed a formal complaint, which has since been dealt with. The bank in question apologised, and accepted that we had not received the `appropriate level of service.` A small cheque  and a bunch of flowers were sent to Dad`s partner for the embarrassment caused.

Matter closed? Lessons learned? We hoped so.

Then the letters started. Same bank; one after the other. Direct debit payments falling like skittles. Each failed payment from the still partially `frozen` bank account suggested that Dad didn`t have enough funds in his account. (Not so). Each letter, `Dad` was told, would cost him £6 in administration fees. Even his police pension wasn`t allowed in.

We understand that most of the letters would have been generated electronically, but with more than enough money in the accounts to cover the monthly bills, these were triggered unnecessarily. And caused even more distress and frustration.

At national level, despite its floral apology, this bank failed us. And because I know, that you, the banks and building societies have been working together for some time to improve things for their customers, I need you to be aware of situations like these.

The British Bankers` Association claims to have new consumer guidance around Powers of Attorney. It`s working with the Office of the Public Guardian, I read, and the Alzheimer`s Society and other key groups, to improve `best practice`. Yet digging deeper and deeper into the documents, charters , promises and press releases you`ve issued in the past year, I can only find a line which warns me: `Your powers will be restricted while your registration is being processed.`

I`m bright (-ish) but to me; that doesn`t say: `You may find yourself at a supermarket checkout with a groaning trolley load of food and a worthless piece of plastic in your hand and therefore, no means to pay for it...`

So. Next time the BBA Consumer Panel meets....could you think about these, please?

1) As soon as a bank or building society hears that a family is involved in the Power of Attorney procedure, contact them. Maybe give them a kind of case-worker. Let them know there`s a marker on the account(s) in question while the paperwork goes through.

2) If there is the slightest chance that a debit card will not be accepted for a purchase during this time, advise the family to make alternative arrangements for this `interim` period. Suggest practical ways they can manage this.

3) Suspend the warning notices threatening fines of £6 a time. Come on...!

4) Make sure there`s a way direct debits and standing orders can still go through, and that a patient`s pensions, can still be received into the account.

5) If you don`t already have dedicated teams in each and every bank and building society in the land to offer this kind of support to people with dementia and their families, start employing people, and training them. You have the money. And you need to care about this. Dementia is a growing problem.

6) If the people taking calls from families like mine at national level, aren`t equipped with the skills to show compassion and concern, find someone else to answer the phone. Seriously. It`s tough enough having someone fading away in front of you, without battling to get an answer from the bank.

7) Next time you get together at national level with that impressive and experienced team, invite Gareth and David along. You might not know them. I don`t think they even know each other. But they both work for a major high street bank, at opposite ends of the country. And on different days, my sister went into hers for help; I went into mine. For Gareth and David--their days, and their duties, stopped. They listened, they understood, they made calls, they gave us their time and their contact details. We don`t even bank with them. They offered practical solutions. If you want their names, shout. They`re both a huge credit to their organisations. In short, they `get it`.

That`s it really. Good luck with formulating strategies and pushing out your press releases. But while you`re doing it...promise me one thing? Don`t forget Phyllis.


Jane McIntyre.

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