Rachel Braverman, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health
Carers Rights Day - why it matters
Today is Carers Rights Day, when Carers UK aims to bring organisations together to help carers know their rights and find out how to get the help and support they are entitled to. It’s a cause dear to my heart, both professionally and personally.
In my twenty years as a money adviser, manager and consultant in the voluntary advice sector, I helped many carers to sort out their finances and those of the people they cared for, navigating bewildering systems and negotiating with councils, government departments and financial organisations.
I am also one of the 6.5 million carers in the UK. My brother and I suddenly became carers for my father when a mental health crisis lead to a physical collapse. We agreed my brother would handle health issues and I’d deal with the money. When Dad left hospital, we moved him from his home in a seaside town into sheltered accommodation near us in London. Carers visited several times a day. Two years later, another health crisis meant this was no longer sustainable and Dad went into residential care until his death last year.
Taking the reins
My father’s finances were, frankly, in a dreadful state. His long-standing mental health issues meant that he’d overspent and got into a lot of debt. Dad was only too glad to let me take over, being too low, confused and demotivated to cope. He handed over everything; cards, computer and bin bags full of paperwork going back decades. I trawled the laptop and excavated the bin bags to find details of his creditors and accounts and set to work. My experience as a money adviser meant I knew what to do, but it was still an exhausting process.
Dad willingly signed a Power of Attorney, but his up and down mental state meant we had to get a solicitor to make sure he really had capacity to do so. Then there was a delay of a couple of months whilst the Office of the Public Guardian processed the application. In the meantime, I spent hours on the phone, trying to get creditors to talk to me. The letters kept coming in. Interest and charges accumulated. Court action was threatened.
Handling the day to day finances was also tricky. When the Power of Attorney finally came through, I asked my father’s current account bank what would happen when I sent it to them. The first thing they’d do, they said, would be to withdraw online banking facilities.
My father’s account was still held at a branch in a seaside town hundreds of miles away.
So what to do?
I had all Dad’s details and his permission to do whatever I thought necessary.
“If I can’t trust you, who can I trust?” he’d say.
I accessed his accounts, set up direct debits for his bills and used his cards for the shopping. But supposing I hadn’t been trustworthy? I felt hugely uncomfortable and stressed doing it.
Our Strength In Numbers report reveals that I was not alone in using risky workarounds. Our research found that, among carers for someone with a mental health problem:
- 52% know someone else’s PIN number
- 27% have used someone else’s contactless card
- 23% know someone else’s online banking passwords
The report makes recommendations that would have helped my situation enormously;
- Urgently develop simple, flexible and accessible tools for third party access, support and control of customer accounts, so carers don’t have to put themselves or the people they care for at risk.
- Improve the Power of Attorney system, including working to improve communications.
- The Financial Conduct Authority should work with the Information Commissioner’s office to develop clearer guidance for customer services departments on the appropriate times and circumstances in which to share information or access with a carer. Consumer service providers should move to develop systems to establish emergency contacts.
It needn't be this stressful
My father was not alone in losing capacity to manage his affairs very suddenly. Had I been named on his various accounts as an emergency contact, as happens when you set up a mobile phone or get a new job, the stress of helping my father when his life had to change so dramatically would have been much, much less. Then, perhaps, it would have been easier to speak to firms to tell them what was happening. Being able to get a more flexible Power of Attorney would also have been hugely helpful, or being provided with tools to access my father’s various accounts in a way that was transparent and safe for both him and me.
Carers save the economy £132 billion per year, an average of £19,336 per carer. Anything that helps carers helps everyone.