Do you know someone who needs some help with their financial affairs?
Powers of attorney and third party bill management are both used by people who need help managing their affairs. This information about how they work in the telecoms sector has been prepared by Ofcom with assistance from the Office of the Public Guardian.
Telecoms providers should have an approach that protects their customers from fraud while allowing properly authorised people access to help operate accounts where appropriate. Powers of attorney and third party bill management enable this to happen.
There are some differences between how things work in England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Please see the relevant sections below.
A lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a legal document that lets a person (known as the ‘donor’) appoint someone else (known as an ‘attorney’) to help make decisions, or to make decisions on their behalf, either immediately or when they lack mental capacity. The attorney is usually a family member, friend or solicitor.
A person lacks mental capacity if they cannot understand, remember and act upon appropriate information and so cannot reliably make a certain decision for themselves.
There are two types of LPA:
Only a property and financial affairs LPA is valid in relation to a telecoms account, and it must be registered by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) before it can take effect. Once the LPA is registered, the attorney should have the same power to manage the account as the account holder.
LPA is the most common, with over 1.8 million registered. However, you may come across other similar arrangements.
Deputies: If a person has not created an LPA and loses mental capacity, the Court of Protection can appoint a ‘deputy’ to act in the same way as an attorney. The court order will set out what decisions the deputy can make on behalf of the person who lacks mental capacity.
Enduring power of attorney: prior to October 2007, a person could create an enduring power of attorney (EPA) in relation to property and finance. EPAs can no longer be made, but existing EPAs are still valid if the donor has lost or is losing their mental capacity, providing they have been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.
Ordinary power of attorney: this enables someone to make financial decisions on behalf of the account holder. However, an ordinary power of attorney stops being legal authority if the donor loses mental capacity.
Benefits Appointee: the Department for Work and Pensions can approve a person to act as the appointee for a mentally incapable or severely disabled person who receives benefits. The appointee receives and manages the benefit payments; this can include making payments such as telecoms and utility bills on behalf of the person.
Ofcom requires all telecoms providers in the UK to offer third party bill management. This allows a customer to nominate a friend or relative to help manage their account. The third party can receive copies of bills and can pay the bills, but does not become liable for them.
The customer should contact their telecoms provider to set this up.
An LPA gives the attorney the same power to manage the account as the account holder.
Third party bill management gives the nominee the ability to speak to the provider about the account, receive copies of bills and pay bills.
Speak to the provider about the account
Receive copies of bills
Close the account/make changes to the account
Third party bill management
Lasting power of attorney/deputyship/ enduring power of attorney
Telecoms providers will need evidence of your authority to act for the account holder. This is likely to be an LPA form that has been completed, signed and registered with the Office of the Public Guardian. They may also ask for proof of your name and address.
Some telecoms providers will accept a photocopy of the registered LPA; others require a copy with the OPG stamp on every page or a copy signed on every page by the donor, a solicitor or a notary to confirm that it is a true copy of the original. The copy of the LPA should be returned to you on request.
My mother has had a stroke and is now in a care home. She has made an LPA (property and financial affairs), naming me as her attorney. Her house is being sold, and I need to close her telecoms account.
The telecoms provider should be able to close the account on receipt of the registered LPA.
My father is in hospital and has made an LPA (property and financial affairs). I am his attorney and wish to receive copies of his bills so that I can ensure that the phone is not cut off during his stay. His account has a password, but I don’t know it and he is unable to tell me as he is confused.
The telecoms provider should accept the LPA without the password to the account in these circumstances. They can use different security checks if necessary.
My aunt is being cared for in a dementia unit and I wish to close her telecoms account. She has third party bill management in place with me as her nominee.
Third party bill management without an LPA would not normally allow you to close the account. However, the telecoms provider is likely to accept a letter from the manager of the dementia unit or the aunt’s GP.
My brother has suffered a head injury and can no longer manage his own affairs. I am going to the Court of Protection to ask for a deputyship order, but this is likely to take two or three months. In the meantime, he is paying for a telecoms service that he cannot use.
The telecoms provider may be willing to accept a letter from the hospital or GP in order to close the account in these circumstances. If not, you could ask for the account to be suspended until the court order is issued, meaning that no further charges accrue.
The OPG has published a guide for regulated firms on supporting customers who do not make their own decisions.
In Scotland, powers of attorney come under the Office of the Public Guardian (Scotland). The legal framework is slightly different from that in England and Wales, and different names are in use.
Both types of powers can be granted in the same document.
As in England and Wales, general or ordinary powers of attorney enable someone to make financial decisions on behalf of the account holder. However, they cease to have legal authority if the granter loses mental capacity.
In Northern Ireland, powers of attorney come under the Office of Care and Protection (NI) and are similar to pre-2007 enduring power of attorney in England and Wales. They can be used without registration while the donor has mental capacity. If the donor loses capacity, the attorney must apply to the High Court (Office of Care and Protection) for registration.