|Court of Protection (Amendment) Rules 2002 and The Court of Protection (Enduring Powers of Attorney) (Amendment) Rules 2002
Mr. Burnett: I do not want to hinder the Minister, but how many people are in a team?
Ms Winterton: We aim to move to smaller teams of about four people, although teams are slightly larger at the moment. I understand the point about ensuring that a client does not get passed around, but the individual approach had some particular problems. For example, when someone went on holiday, no one knew about or could deal with his or her case. We were asked to address that.
An arrears team has been set up to reply to the outstanding work, and it has now cleared more than 5,000 items of outstanding correspondence. I visited Archway and saw the team's work, and I know that it is committed. Its work should be commended. Ahead of computerisation, there have been problems in delivering an effective service to callers using call
Column Number: 014centres. We have responded to that because receivers and solicitors did not like the approach. Plans are now being made to examine that and work with our users to see how we can improve the service.
The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon referred to the problems in locating case records. We are examining improvements to the file registry service and have established a new messenger service to ensure that file movement within the office operates smoothly. As the workers have found, a case file can often be required at different times by different parts of the office. The paper-based filing system means that there have been problems locating files. We are considering locating the files much closer to the client advisers and have established a new file-tracking system. Files are being bar coded, so that a computer can track their location in the office. We are also considering establishing the new MERIS casework system in a year's time, so that much more information will be available to staff on screen. That will serve the PGO and its clients better, and we will be able to dispense with the old paper-based system.
The former Public Trust Office's poor management of receivership cases is well documented and the PGO acknowledges that there are continuing problems. That is why we want to ensure that family members and local professionals can increasingly take on the responsibility to take those decisions, but with proper supervision. There is a balance: the hon. Gentleman referred to Baroness Scotland's letter. We must acknowledge that people want to take some decisions quickly, and that they find it much easier if there is someone local. It is therefore important that we take the remoteness out of the system, which we are working hard to achieve. We must also ensure that we provide the proper protection.
The hon. Gentlemen also talked about information about individuals. Again, the PGO and the court must balance the individual's right to privacy with the interests of family members who want information about a client. Requests can be difficult, and a decision must be taken with those factors in mind. That is why each request is considered on its merits. It is important to allow the PGO and the court to retain that discretion.
I hope that I have set out some of the reasons why we introduced those fees, and given reassurances that we introduced them in response to criticisms that have long been made by the Public Accounts Committee and others about the operation of the system. I also hope that we have struck the right balance in ensuring that one set of clients does not pay for another, which was something that used to affect the very vulnerable clients.
Mr. Burnett: The Minister is coming to the end of her speech. Will she write to me on my important point about the discretion of the Master of the Court of Protection, and send a copy to the hon. Member for Stone?
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Ms Winterton: Certainly, yes.
I hope that I have reassured members of the Committee that we tried to devise a strategy that responds to previous criticisms, but that also makes more generous provision for remission of fees for the poorest clients. I hope that the Committee will accept the rules.
Mr. Burnett: This has been an important and useful debate. The Minister has rightly stated that the Public Guardianship Office still has problems. I congratulate her on giving her conscientious attention to this important matter. She has done well to cover the ground. However, despite a major change some time ago, it remains obvious to clients that no real improvement has been made. Considerable dissatisfaction, disquiet and frustration remain—from clients and, indeed, in the House—at the conduct of the Public Guardianship Office. We are dissatisfied with its standards and we intend to register our dissatisfaction in the hope that it will lead to improvements.
Mr. Cash: I, too, listened with great interest to what the Minister had to say. She provided a thorough analysis of the position. Problems do, however, remain, so we shall probably divide the Committee.
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5.
Division No. 1]
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(Enduring Powers of Attorney)
(Amendment) Rules 2000
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