A year after the launch of the online power of attorney registration facility EPOAR, the Public Guardian, and a user firm, describe their experience of the system to date

 

It is now just over a year since the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) introduced its Electronic Power of Attorney Registration (EPOAR) online facility. This secure, web-based service provides an efficient, speedy and easy-to-use alternative to submitting powers of attorney for registration via the traditional manual system.

EPOAR can be accessed both by professionals and members of the public. In its first year, OPG received, processed, registered and returned electronically nearly 12,000 powers of attorney, and the numbers continue to grow month on month.

Assuming that this growth is maintained, then it is expected that, shortly, the preferred method of submission by the legal profession will be by the electronic route.

The launch of EPOAR was preceded by a rigorous round of field testing, in which 32 firms of solicitors participated. At that time OPG provided a series of seminars to introduce EPOAR to the profession.

The seminars were well attended, EPOAR was well received and the anticipated quick processing time was welcomed. Straw poll exercises carried out at the seminars provided a strong indication that solicitors would consider using the EPOAR facility.

Resource-efficient

To date, 345 firms, representing the length and breadth of Scotland, have registered to use EPOAR, and feedback has been very positive. EPOAR is attractive, as the facility itself is straightforward to use and the processing time speedy.

Currently, EPOAR submissions are being processed within three working days of receipt, compared with the current waiting time of 55 working days for manual submissions. About 60% of powers of attorney received are processed via the manual system. Powers of attorney submitted manually do take longer to process, and thus more resources are required to administer this system.

As a comparison, the manual service requires 16 individual work steps to be carried out by OPG staff, from initial receipt to issue of the certificate of registration, while EPOAR involves only six. The turnaround time for manual submissions may not be favourable, but realistically the waiting time will only reduce if the number of EPOAR submissions increases.

From an OPG perspective, more firms using EPOAR means that additional staff resources can be freed up and allocated to carrying out work in relation to incapable adults, rather than the registration of powers of attorney for capable adults, important as that work is.

While there are no plans at the moment to make electronic submissions mandatory, we would encourage firms to register to use EPOAR and submit powers of attorney via this facility.

Payment issues

Some solicitor firms may be holding off from using EPOAR until an alternative to the debit/credit card payment mechanism becomes available. Alternatives have been considered; however, this mechanism remains the only means of payment.

Scott Williamson, partner with Blackadders Solicitors, who has been involved throughout with this project, says of the payment method: “A number of solicitors have found the requirement for credit card payment to be a stumbling block, but once overcome, the reconciliation process is simple and straightforward. Our cashroom team favour this form of payment over any of the alternatives.”

Scott Williamson is happy to receive calls if you wish to discuss any aspect of EPOAR with him. Equally, we have a very responsive IT help team at OPG which has been commended for the support it gives, so please feel free to contact us if you should need any assistance.

Further benefits

Ease of use and speed of service are not the only benefits from using EPOAR. For example, firms who submit powers of attorney regularly can expect to see significant savings in their stationery and postage outlays; indeed, there are no submission-related postage costs incurred by the end user.

There is also the opportunity to download multiple copies of the certificate of registration via EPOAR at no additional cost. For anyone presented with an EPOAR certificate of registration, most usually a bank or other fund holder, there is a facility for them to check the veracity of the deed by accessing the EPOAR verification facility, again available online. There is no charge for this service.

A year of operational experience has also indicated that powers of attorney submitted electronically tend to meet registration requirements on first submission, thus meaning that there are fewer rejections relating to statutory validity failures. This, in turn, means that fewer cases require to be reworked both by the external customer and also by staff in OPG. We haven’t quite got to the bottom of why this might be the case, but it is a welcome trend in any event.

 

Five quick steps to using EPOAR

  • Register the firm to use the facility
  • Start making electronic submissions
    • input granter, attorney and sender data
    • confirm the type of powers granted
    • confirm the attorney is willing to act
    • NB: there is no need to complete and submit a separate registration form
  • Upload the power of attorney deed in PDF format
  • Pay the Public Guardian’s fee by credit or debit card via a secure online payment gateway
  • Submit your documentation
    • documentation is checked by OPG staff to ensure statutory requirements are adhered to
    • EPOAR documentation is made available electronically and downloaded by the sender
    • the downloaded certificate of registration requires to be certified as a true copy
    • NB: the certificate looks different to the red-sealed clerical version

 

                                                           

Will it sail or will it fail?

Sana Afzal describes her firm’s conversion to EPOAR despite some initial doubts and difficulties

Being faced with a lengthy registration process for powers of attorney (POA), which had led to a substantial backlog, the OPG knew it had a problem. It carried out consultations with the legal community to devise the best electronic service possible, adding several features at their request. Hence, EPOAR was born.

EPOAR allows administrative data to be managed by each individual firm, reducing the time taken to validate a POA. The new system also allows 20 payments to be accepted at once, saving us all time writing cheques!

Having witnessed the transition to EPOAR, I have come to understand that there are, indeed, two sides to every coin. The physical appearance of the paper-based POA is a trade mark, boasting the authenticity of the POA. It’s something that we have all become accustomed to as evidence of validity. It is for this reason that some firms have been hesitant to switch.

Their reluctance, coupled with the failure of institutions to recognise electronic certificates and educate their staff accordingly, has meant that the transition was never going to be successful overnight.

That’s not the only problem, though. Imagine your reaction when your client is told by a national financial institution that not only is the POA certificate invalid (as it does not boast the OPG’s official red seal), but that the certificate sheds doubt over the legitimacy of the firm from which it was acquired. To say that this will cause some friction, is an understatement.

In spite of the above, we should not point the finger at the OPG. In my experience, the OPG has gone to great lengths to advertise and make institutions aware of its innovation.

It must be taken into account that the receiver of a POA at any institution will have very basic legal knowledge, if any. They will have been trained to spot the red seal, the lack of which will likely jeopardise the acceptance of the POA certificate. This is one of the more important hurdles that must be overcome. More pressure needs to be placed on institutions to make their staff at branch level aware of EPOAR.

My firm’s initial hesitation about using this new system was in understanding what EPOAR could do for us. Put simply, we needed to be persuaded that it was viable, cost-effective and would save time. After consideration, we found that we could answer yes to all these questions, and hence, we stepped into the world of EPOAR. You can imagine our reaction when our first POA was registered within three days. The difference between three days and the usual six to eight weeks for paper-based registration made it impossible for us to look back.

Although it is clear that EPOAR still faces challenges, it saves time and money. It is no surprise then that my firm and I remain avid supporters. The profession should overlook its worries, because EPOAR is here, and is set to be the future of POA registration.

The Author
For anyone interested in finding out more, there is information available on the OPG website at www.publicguardian-scotland.gov.uk, or go direct to the EPOAR site at www.publicguardian-scotland.gov.uk/epoar/index.asp We can also be contacted for information at epoar@scotcourts.gov.uk or 01324 678300.   Sana Afzal is a trainee solicitor with Caritas Legal Ltd
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