On 6 July 2015 the Office of the Public Guardian (“OPG”) issued standards of conduct for professional and local authority deputies. The intention to introduce these standards was announced in a report issued by the OPG to Parliament in December 2014 with the aim of setting out what good practice should look like in order to promote good behaviour. This is part of a wider initiative to improve the supervision of court appointed deputies.
The five standards are set out in two documents, one for professional and one for local authority deputies. They are as follows:
- Standard one: secure the client's finances and assets;
- Standard two: gain insight into the client to make decisions in their best interests;
- Standard three: maintain effective internal office processes and organisation;
- Standard four: have the skills and knowledge to carry out the duties of deputy; and
- Standard five: health and welfare standards
The guidance sets out the steps that deputies should take and the documents that should be retained in order to evidence that they have complied with each of the applicable standards.
The OPG will enforce the standards by assessing deputies either through assurance visits, reviews conducted by telephone or during case reviews. If a deputy is not considered to be at the required standard, the OPG will identify areas of weakness. If the OPG finds that there are significant breaches of the standards, they will seek to enforce an action plan.
In cases of the most serious or fundamental breaches the OPG may seek removal of the deputy. It is expected that new guidance will be issued for lay deputies in due course, but in the meantime, the standards could be used as a useful guide to work from.
Most professional deputies will already be operating in accordance with the standards, but the guidance will help those falling short of the mark to identify areas for improvement and make it easier for the OPG to ensure that all professional and local authority deputies are operating to the same high standard.